RIP David Halberstam

confirmed dead in the Bay Area as the result of an automobile accident.

One of the most important popular historians of the last 50 years. Gonna have to re-read OCTOBER, 1964 for the umpteenth time in his memory, I suppose.

I’ve read none of David Halberstam’s work, but I’m hearing so much about him. I was most surprised to hear the guys on “Pardon the Interruption” today talk about him so glowingly. They both clearly looked up to him. I’m not a sports freak, but I love that show, and hearing the way they so sincerely talked about this man piqued my interest.

I’m a very slow reader with a lot on deck at almost all times, but I’d like to read a Halberstam book. Anybody have a recommendation beyond the book triggercut said he has to read again?



If you’re not (or only peripherally) interested in sports subjects, I’d recommend without hesitation THE FIFTIES. Great cultural history of the decade in America. THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST is a sobering, brilliant read on America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Halberstam’s best work is probably SUMMER OF '49, which is a baseball book that transcends being a baseball book.

My favorite–because my team wins in the end–is OCTOBER, 1964. It also transcends being a “baseball book”, since Halberstam uses the 1964 World Series as a jumping-off point to discuss race in America, and uses the Yankees last hurrah as a metaphor for the oncoming craziness of the second half of the decade. That book has one of my favorite lines in it, one which neatly encapsulates the genius of Halberstam’s writing. In a chapter where he’s discussing new Cardinal owner/Beer Baron Gussie Busch, Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray weighs in:

“He’s a booze and broads kind of guy,” Caray said, who himself was a booze and broads kind of guy.

I heard a glowing sentimental tribute to this guy from the queen of prigs, Scott Simon of NPRs weekend edition the other day. Simon went on and on and on about what a prince among men this fellow was. He helped everybody, loved everybody, accomplished everything.

Then today on Slate there’s an essay about what a jackass he was. Needless to say I believe the Slate piece. My non-faith in Scott Simon is restored!

While I should just be happy for you that despite appearances, you are able to read, I should point out that Jack Shafer tends to lose all sense of perspective when it comes to any subject even peripherally associated with the NY Times. Rather than cite the three examples he gives related to Halberstam’s ego (one of which has Shafer almost apologetically noting that Halberstam was 30 years old, eventually capitulated, and then apologized later for his behavior for), you could look to the numerous accolades being heaped on the fellow by especially young journalists whom Halberstam had gone out of his way to help.

Shafer’s a fine writer, but he’s ten times the asshole he describes Halberstam as in that piece. That’s cool–doing what Shafer does, he sort of needs to be an asshole. However, when doing an obituary on the sudden death of a highly-respected person of letters, being a jerk comes off as shockingly poor form.

Remember, Spoof: There’s a 75% chance the Slate article is lying to you.

Awww, man. Halberstam was great. The Best and the Brightest is probably the first book to read on Vietnam.

So true.

Thanks triggercut. I’ll take a look at The Fifties. I’m curious about the Vietnam book, but I’ve already got a big old book to read on West Point that deals with that era–The Long Gray Line–on deck.