David Halberstam: 1934–2007

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A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.—Joseph Campbell

This quotation is the epigraph to David Halberstam’s magisterial “Summer of ’49,” surely one of the most influential books in the baseball literary canon. The passage evokes the stature and power of Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams—the book’s chief protagonists—but it just as well describes Halberstam, who was killed today in an automobile accident in California. Few writers can be credited with shaping political events. Halberstam did that; first as a Pulitzer-winning journalist, and then with his two books on the Vietnam War, “The Making of a Quagmire” and “The Best and the Brightest.” Those books made plain to the American public the fiasco of a failed war. A spate of books in the same vein have followed recently, on a different war and a different set of misguided intellectuals. If his Vietnam work secured Halberstam his place in history, for baseball fans he will always be best remembered for “Summer of ’49,” which tracks a nail-biting, wire-to-wire pennant race between baseball’s two great rivals. It is a beautiful book, an elegaic and sympathetic portrait of the Yankees and the Red Sox and one extraordinary summer. Any number of books have since followed its format—Halberstam himself copied it with “October ’64″—but it remains the gold standard. If this site had a patron saint, it would be Halberstam. He will be missed.

10 comments… add one

  • Well said, YF.

    attackgerbil April 23, 2007, 9:08 pm
  • Thanks, YF.

    SF April 23, 2007, 9:14 pm
  • By chance I read three Halberstam books in a row last year: The Teammates, The Education of a Coach and The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy.
    He truly was a master.
    God bless, David. And thanks for your life well lived.

    I'm Bill McNeal April 23, 2007, 10:04 pm
  • I was really saddened to hear about this earlier today. Halberstam is one of my favorite authors. I read The Best and the Brightest last year, and the Teammates is one of my all-time favorite books. He’ll certainly be missed.

    Laura April 23, 2007, 10:50 pm
  • I just finished reading The Teammates last month. A wonderful book by a truly gifted writer and reporter. Godspeed.

    Paul SF April 24, 2007, 12:10 am
  • I’ve read his vivid accounts of early Sox teams in “The Teammates” and “Summer of ’49″ but was not familiar with his Vietnam Era writings. Apart from his expert narration of all things baseball, this particular quote struck me as incredibly insightful:
    “The crueler the war gets, the crueler the attacks get on anybody who doesn’t salute or play the game. And one day the people who are doing the attacking look around and they’ve used up their credibility.”
    Journalism has suffered greatly with the loss of this admirable man and wonderful writer.

    Nate=Soxfan April 24, 2007, 12:22 am
  • He ends The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy like this:
    “Then he descended to acknowledge his victory, to talk about the violence and the divisiveness, and to let a nation discover in his death what it had never understood or believed about him during his life.”
    No concluding chapter. It just ends. Like RFK’s life.

    I'm Bill McNeal April 24, 2007, 11:43 am
  • I mourn and grieve for our nation today.
    Because Halberstam kept telling us. And we refused to listen.
    We were more enraptured by the Coulters and the Tony Snows.
    We were not prepared to hear the truth.
    We will pay the price for a long time.

    I'm Bill McNeal April 24, 2007, 11:46 am
  • Wow, that’s really f*cking maudlin, isn’t it?

    I'm Bill McNeal April 24, 2007, 11:56 am
  • For the first time in my life, I’m going to echo attackgerbil:
    Well said, YF.

    mattymatty April 24, 2007, 2:14 pm

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