Jackie Robinson: A Biography

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Overview

The extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson is illuminated as never before in this full-scale biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack's widow, Rachel, to tell her husband's story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure in the areas of race and civil rights.

Born in the rural South, the son of a sharecropper, Robinson was ...

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Jackie Robinson: A Biography

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Overview

The extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson is illuminated as never before in this full-scale biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack's widow, Rachel, to tell her husband's story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure in the areas of race and civil rights.

Born in the rural South, the son of a sharecropper, Robinson was reared in southern California. We see him blossom there as a student-athlete as he struggled against poverty and racism to uphold the beliefs instilled in him by his mother--faith in family, education, America, and God.

We follow Robinson through World War II, when, in the first wave of racial integration in the armed forces, he was commissioned as an officer, then court-martialed after refusing to move to the back of a bus. After he plays in the Negro National League, we watch the opening of an all-American drama as, late in 1945, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers recognized Jack as the right player to break baseball's color barrier--and the game was forever changed.

Jack's never-before-published letters open up his relationship with his family, especially his wife, Rachel, whom he married just as his perilous venture of integrating baseball began. Her memories are a major resource of the narrative as we learn about the severe harassment Robinson endured from teammates and opponents alike; about death threats and exclusion; about joy and remarkable success. We watch his courageous response to abuse, first as a stoic endurer, then as a fighter who epitomized courage and defiance.

We see his growing friendship with white players like Pee Wee Reese and the black teammates who followed in his footsteps, and his embrace by Brooklyn's fans. We follow his blazing career: 1947, Rookie of the Year; 1949, Most Valuable Player; six pennants in ten seasons, and 1962, induction into the Hall of Fame.

But sports were merely one aspect of his life. We see his business ventures, his leading role in the community, his early support of Martin Luther King Jr., his commitment to the civil rights movement at a crucial stage in its evolution; his controversial associations with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Humphrey, Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and Malcolm X.

Rampersad's magnificent biography leaves us with an indelible image of a principled man who was passionate in his loyalties and opinions: a baseball player who could focus a crowd's attention as no one before or since; an activist at the crossroads of his people's struggle; a dedicated family man whose last years were plagued by illness and tragedy, and who died prematurely at fifty-two. He was a pathfinder, an American hero, and he now has the biography he deserves.

From the Hardcover edition.

Arnold Rampersad follows the pivotal baseball player's life.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles Taylor

There's a moment in the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize when Harry Belafonte describes Muhammad Ali as "terribly, terribly delicious." The way Belafonte savors those words before letting them out -- drop by drop -- tells you that he loves the beauty and glamour of Ali even more than he does Ali the boxer or Ali the proud black man.

That sensuous appreciation of beauty is exactly what's missing from Arnold Rampersad's biography of Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson will probably come to be officially accepted as the definitive story of the man who broke baseball's color line in 1947 when he was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus becoming the first African-American to play modern major league ball. If it were only a matter of thoroughness and scrupulousness, there's no reason why the book shouldn't be the official Robinson bio. Like a conscientious student, Rampersad, who has written books on Arthur Ashe and Langston Hughes and is a professor of literature at Princeton, has done all the research. We get a vivid portrait of the opportunities and tensions afforded by Robinson's Pasadena boyhood, and an even more vivid portrait of the straitjacketing that Robinson's stature as role model and barrier breaker imposed upon him (like Elvis in the Army, he was denied the right to complain, lest it look like he was seeking "special treatment"). Rampersad's chapters on Robinson's post-retirement political activities may be among the most complex yet lucid accountings we have of how black Americans seeking to improve their position found themselves tossed back and forth between the political left and right.

You can barely get through a chapter here without one of Rampersad's insights striking you. He notes that Brooklyn may have been the perfect place for baseball's color line to be crossed, since in the years following World War II, the borough's largely Jewish population was ready to identify with the tribulations of American blacks. What eludes Rampersad is contained in a photo, included in the book, of a pack of eager white kids hanging over the Dodgers dugout at Ebbets Field during Jackie's first game, trying to get his autograph. Anyone who'd crossed the color line would have made history. But people don't respond to history-making figures if those figures don't have the charisma to unleash imaginations. The stunning smile Robinson displays on the book's dust jacket tells you more about why people went wild over him than Rampersad's painstaking details and considered analysis. We love people who make history outside of the narrow grounds where history is officially accepted as being made (politics, the military) because they seem more vital, more real than the figures in the history books teachers try to shove down our throats. Leave it to an academic to return Jackie Robinson to those dull, dusty volumes. -- Salon

Roger Angell
In this book, as in his life, Jackie Robinson seizes attention not only by hisheroic self-control during the redneck vilifications and incipient player strikes of that first season but by his quite different demeanor afterward. -- The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In capturing the life of trailblazing black majorleaguer Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), Rampersad (coauthor with Arthur Ashe of Days of Grace) has found a subject to match his considerable talents as a biographer. Rampersad is the first biographer to be given complete access to Robinson's papers, and his book is a thoroughly researched, gracefully written and vividly told story of one of the country's most gifted, courageous athletes, not only in integrating professional baseball but also in dealing with his stardom and breaking racial barriers in college football, basketball and track at Pasadena Junior College and at UCLA. Robinson was born in rural Georgia, where his mother's family had owned land since the 1870s. His philandering father abandoned the family, and his mother moved with her children to Pasadena, Calif., in 1920, where Jackie and his brother, Mack, also a world-class athlete, began their athletic careers. Rampersad details the influence of Jackie's mother on his principles; his earnest religious devotion; his chaste courtship of his future wife, Rachel (and her own considerable talents as a mother, nurse and hospital administrator and, eventually, as manager of her husband's real estate firm); his military service; and his dissatisfaction with the conditions of Negro league baseball in the 1930s. The second baseman's relationship with Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey, architect of his historic challenge to baseball's racial barrier, is well documented, and most significantly, detailed coverage is given to Robinson's transition from superstar baseball player to businessman and passionate civil rights leader. His unprecedented influence continued in politics as a pioneering black power-broker in the presidential campaigns of Eisenhower, Nixon and Rockefeller. Rampersad also writes of Robinson's baseball prowess, re-creating some of the most exciting pennant races ever. Photos. 200,000 first printing; BOMC selection. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The celebrated biographer of Langston Hughes takes advantage of privileged access to baseball pioneer and legend Robinson's private papers to paint this portrait.
Kirkus Reviews
Avoiding the sentimentality surrounding the 50th anniversary of Robinson's major-league debut, Rampersad compellingly projects his life against the backdrop of the persons and institutions that affected him and that he, in turn, helped to change.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson's early life in Georgia and California was more or less defined by racial segregation. Tracing Robinson's journey through college, military service in WW II, professional baseball, marriage, fatherhood, and his later careers in business and public service, Rampersad (author of a two-volume biography of Langston Hughes) demonstrates how Robinson's determination was often both his greatest strength and his Achilles' heel. Nowhere was this more obvious than during his brilliant baseball career, where his combativeness occasionally put him at odds with fans, opponents, and even teammates. Robinson's transition from baseball to "private" life in 1957 was smooth—the game had left him modestly wealthy and socially well connected. However, he did encounter difficulties during these years. Quick to take to the stump for a cause or a friend, Robinson sometimes clashed with other civil rights and political leaders, including Malcolm X, whose appeals for black separatism frustrated the integrationist pioneer. During the tumult of the '60s, Robinson became estranged from his eldest son, Jackie Jr., who after being wounded in Vietnam, later fell into a cycle of crime and drug dependency. (Jackie eventually recovered and was reconciled with his father, only to die in a motor accident in 1971.) After Robinson's death in 1972, President Richard Nixon, a longtime friend and admirer, hailed him for having "brought a new human dimension not only to the game of baseball but to every area of American life." A former opponent, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, spoke another kind of truth, about Robinson, both as a ballplayer and as an idealist : "He could beat you in a lot of ways."

Somewhat languidly paced but nevertheless gripping, this oustanding biography is in every way worthy of its esteemed subject.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345426550
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 217,120
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Arnold Rampersad is Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton University, where he is a member of the Department of English and the Program in African-American Studies. His books include the two-volume Life of Langston Hughes and, with the late Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir. In 1991, he was appointed a MacArthur Foundation fellow. He lives with his family in Princeton, New Jersey.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Jj Jackie Robinson

    It doesnt make sence at the begining

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

    CHUCK NORRIS

    Its awesome like me

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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