SBD/December 13, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Book Shelf: Mixed Reviews For Bradlee's "The Kid" Ted Williams Biography

Author BEN BRADLEE JR.'s "THE KID: THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF TED WILLIAMS," which was released on Dec. 3, "details an extraordinary American life while showing us how that life morphed into a legend," according to Allen Barra of the BOSTON GLOBE. The book "reads like an epic, starting before Williams's birth in 1918, outlining his Anglo and Mexican heritage growing up in Southern California, and continuing after his death in 2002 to the present." Bradlee has "given us the fullest exploration yet of his monumental ego and the best explanation for his vast inferiority complex." Unlike "earlier biographers, Bradlee doesn't romanticize the account of Williams's war service." The book is "packed with great moments," and for "every high point, there's a spectacular low." But while there is "much to praise here, there are shortcomings." Bradlee devotes "a bit too much time to the Williams story" after his retirement. The "unfathomable neuroses of Ted and his children and their ongoing internecine warfare eventually has a numbing effect." By the time his "younger two children proceed with cryogenically preserving his remains, the reader's head may feel frozen" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/7). In N.Y., Sherryl Connelly wrote Williams was a "nasty man but his life story makes for great copy" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/8).

COMPARE & CONTRAST: In N.Y., Charles McGrath wrote what distinguishes the book from "the rest of Williams lit is, first of all, its size, and the depth of its reporting." Bradlee "seemingly talked to everyone, not just baseball people but Williams' fishing buddies, old girlfriends, his two surviving wives and both of his daughters." Bradlee had "unparalleled access to Williams family archives." His account "does not materially alter our picture of Williams the player, but fills it in with much greater detail and nuance." Bradlee's "expansiveness enables his book to transcend the familiar limits of the sports bio and to become instead a hard-to-put-down account of a fascinating American life." It is a "story about athletic greatness but also about the perils of fame and celebrity, the corrosiveness of money and the way the cycle of familial resentment and disappointment plays itself out generation after generation" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/8). SI's Stephanie Apstein writes the book "lacks the elegance" of LEIGH MONTVILLE's '04 biography of Williams, "TED WILLIAMS: THE BIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN HERO." But Bradlee's book "makes up for it with staggering reporting -- the 14-page appendix II, which lists more than 600 people he interviewed over 11 years, is longer than nine of the 34 chapters." Bradlee "tracked down everyone from Williams' two surviving wives to the man who serviced his satellite dish." It is "in those off-the-field moments that The Kid proves most insightful" (SI, 12/16 issue).

DOING DUE DILIGENCE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Howard Schneider wrote the book is "superb," yet "sometimes troubling." But "research alone doesn't make 'The Kid' a first-rate biography." Bradlee was "able to organize the great mass of data into a lucid and readable whole and -- most important -- bring his subject and the people around him to provocative and stormy life" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/7). In N.Y., Bruce Weber wrote the biography is a "work of obvious journalistic muscle and diligence," as it "provides documentary evidence on every page to bolster the book's presumption that Williams was ... larger than life." But Bradlee is "hampered by the incontrovertible fact that Williams was a significant personage because of his batting feats." While he "hardly ignores Williams's years as a player," Bradlee is "not an especially astute baseball writer." The "best baseball chapter is a patient recounting of Williams's melodramatic and bittersweet final game, in which he homered in his last time at bat." But even in that instance, Bradlee "gives the last word to someone else, JOHN UPDIKE, who wrote about the game for The New Yorker in a famous essay." The book has "neither the hagiographic sheen of recent biographies of YOGI BERRA and WILLIE MAYS, nor the gleeful legend-puncturing of RICHARD BEN CRAMER's celebrated portrait of JOE DIMAGGIO." Bradlee's "evenhanded thoroughness ultimately does his subject ... no favors" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/5).
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