The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter (Harper, $15). When I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to be. When I was 20, I knew. What happened in between? I read this oral history of early 20th-century baseball. Ritter’s seamless interviews made it look so easy, but he had to be real good to get these tough old birds to talk. Glory evokes an era that seemed prehistoric when it was published in 1966. Now, it would be like interviewing the ’62 Mets, demonstrating that the stories don’t get old, reporters do.
Bullwhip Days edited by James Mellon (Grove, $14.50). In the 1930s, former slaves were interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project. They recalled being whipped, raped, and worked nearly to death, and their memories serve to remind us that there was nothing benign about the Stars and Bars.
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The Good War by Studs Terkel (New Press, $17) Selecting one Studs Terkel book is like picking out the best pistachio nut from the pile. They’re all great, but The Good War, which got Studs a long-deserved Pulitzer, stands out. Unvarnished and unsentimental, these interviews tell us that the good guys weren’t always so good. They never are.
Nam by Mark Baker (Cooper Square, $18) This one’s about the bad war. There are several great oral histories of Vietnam, but Nam was recommended to me by a vet who was on the front lines during Tet, so believe me, he knows.
Woodstock by Joel S. Makower (out of print). So many people told me when I was researching my book on the 1960s that Woodstock was the seminal event in their lives. This captures it. The only thing missing is the mud.
Muhammad Ali by Thomas Hauser (Simon & Schuster, $16). I admire Ali, but I’m not a worshipper. His treatment of his wives and his mockery of Joe Frazier were disgraceful. In Hauser’s hands, Ali emerges as funny, talented, complex, and above all, human. I’d say that’s about right.
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