There are lots of things to do before one dies. For the baseball fan, one is to read baseball books! Our experience of baseball is enhanced, going beyond the field itself, when we read about the game. There is an abundance of rich baseball books, covering all aspects of the sport, which can deepen appreciation—and enjoyment — of our national pastime.
Nowhere is the wealth of books on baseball plainer than in Ron Kaplan's book, which describes 501 other books about baseball! Appropriately, Kaplan begins his Acknowledgements with a quote from "Hawkeye" Pierce of M*A*S*H* who, when asked what one book he'd want if stranded on a desert island, replied, "the dictionary, because it has all the other books in it"! While it may seem Kaplan has encompassed all baseball books in his descriptions, we know he has barely scratched the surface. A number of my favorite baseball books are missing—as will yours be, as well. But, no matter. Like baseball itself, folks can argue—here, about what books should be included. But baseball literature is vast enough for all voices to be heard—and read. So Kaplan's guide is a splendid opening of the door to the vast treasures of writings about our beloved baseball. Kaplan is generous enough to provide an email address so readers can suggest other volumes for future editions.
There are fifteen chapters in the book ranging from Analysis and Autobiography/Biography, and Memoir; through History and Instructionals; to Pop Culture and Reference; ending with Umpires/ Rules and For Young Readers. The breadth here inevitably brings baseball literature into connections with other arenas such as fiction, history, music, etc. This opens new vistas when a previously unknown title appears — and links with an interest we may have beyond the baseball diamond.
Kaplan's usually provides a half to full page description of the books, giving a guide to contents as well as assessments along the way. He writes clearly and accessibly giving one the sense that you have a good handle on what the book is about after you've read Kaplan's comments. These descriptions are thus full enough to flash the green light if the book will be of enough interest to read — before you die!
A number of the books described are, of course, out of print. A great value of this book as a guide is that alerts you to baseball books you didn't know existed — and, which you might be able to pick up for a low price on Ebay, Amazon.com or some comparative shopping for books website. This is like finding buried treasure! I've ordered used copies of books of interest, about which I did not know. One stands a better chance these days, through technology, of finding these pearls than in the past when you would have to scour used bookstores. So Kaplan's labors are valuable in not only for gaining a wide overview of important and interesting books, but also alerting one to books you'd like to read, or own. On the flip side, it may make your own baseball library pretty paltry!
Kaplan's abilities make this book live up to a line about it on the back cover: "Anyone who loves to read about baseball will find in this book a companionable guide, far more fun than a reference work has any right to be." This book is definitely worth acquiring for yourself. In a number of ways it will be interesting and valuable. It will also keep you busy with "must reads"…for a long time!