The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron

Howard Bryant, Author . Pantheon $29.95 (624p) ISBN 978-0-375-42485-4

This biography of the African-American baseball great doesn't amount to the epic it wants to be. ESPN reporter Bryant (Juicing the Game ) portrays Aaron's journey from Jim Crow Alabama to superstardom with the Milwaukee, then Atlanta Braves during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s as both a sports saga and a struggle against racism. (The Braves' spring training facilities stayed segregated into the 1960s, and Aaron's 1974 breaking of Babe Ruth's home run record was marred by racist death threats.) But while the author takes very seriously the sports commentator's traditional task of investing trivia with near-biblical portentousness—“And thus it came to pass that Henry Aaron became the first black majority owner of the first BMW franchise in the country”—he never quite succeeds at establishing Aaron's heroic stature. The slugger comes off as a superlatively skillful but unspectacular player whose civil rights activism is cautious and muted (though more outspoken later when he became a Braves executive). Throughout, he's a wary, reticent man given to rancor over slights, and the narrative can't help wandering toward more charismatic figures like Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. Mightily as he swings, Bryant fails to knock Aaron's story out of the park. Photos. (May 11)

Reviewed on: 03/15/2010
Release date: 05/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-307-73691-8
Compact Disc - 978-0-307-73688-8
Open Ebook - 436 pages - 978-0-307-37924-5
Paperback - 600 pages - 978-0-307-27992-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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