The Books Briefing: America’s Pastime

Your weekly guide to the best in books will take you out to the ball game.

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Something about summer makes the simplest pleasures—such as a good book on a still day—feel like the height of contentment. “America’s pastime” of baseball is a bit more satisfying, too, when the skies are at their bluest and the sun doesn’t set on the ballpark until well into the evening.

Ring Lardner, a beat reporter from baseball’s early days, uses the sport’s meditative quality to draw up moments of compelling introspection amid the humor in his novel You Know Me Al, which follows a fringe Major Leaguer. The ballplayer in Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, a Division III college shortstop, mulls the circumstances of his misery after suddenly forgetting how to play. In The Grind, the sports columnist Barry Svrluga details the mental and physical demands of a stress-filled 162-game season.

The writers Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik look to the future of baseball, considering how analytics can develop players’ skills at a time when they’re valued according to their current statistics. Conversely, books by Jules Tygiel and Chris Lamb delve into baseball’s past to tell the story of Jackie Robinson’s integration into the Major League—a story of black activism that has been written over in popular accounts as one of individual persistence and white patronage.

Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Check out past issues here.

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What We’re Reading

The new science of building baseball superstars
“A sport that has lately been understood primarily through numbers on a spreadsheet is paying newly fine-grained attention to the game as a human activity.”

📚 The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players, by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik

Why are great sports novels so rare?
“Athleticism is a level of human performance so misunderstood by those who partake in it, that it begs for our best fictionalists to explore.”

📚 The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

The greatest baseball novel ever written
“It is a tear-inducer, and, in its best moments, you find yourself wondering if those tears are because you’ve just been laughing so hard, or if our man has come to some realization about himself, despite himself.”

📚 You Know Me Al, by Ring Lardner

(Kirby Lee/ USA Today Sports / Reuters)

The real story of baseball’s integration
“[Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the Major League] came after more than a decade of effort by black and left-wing journalists and activists to desegregate the national pastime.”

📚 Baseball’s Great Experiment, by Jules Tygiel
📚 Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball, by Chris Lamb

(Jake Roth / USA Today Sports / Reuters)

The tedium of baseball
“[Barry] Svrluga reveals a culture of nonstop stress: a relentless rhythm of scouting odysseys, training routines, travel monotony, injuries—all before anyone gets out on the field.”

📚 The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season, by Barry Svrluga

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

This week’s question comes from Sarah, who would like some fiction recommendations related to Hawaii before she takes a trip to the state in the fall.

Honolulu magazine compiled an expansive list of books that satisfies just about every sort of interest in Hawaii. A few of the fiction standouts are Shark Dialogues, by Kiana Davenport; Blu’s Hanging, by Lois-Ann Yamanaka; and Waimea Summer, by John Dominis Holt. You can check out the full list here.

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Myles Poydras. He’s pondering Cane, by Jean Toomer.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

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