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The Historic Career of the Man Baseball Did Not Want

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The Jackie Robinson Reader: Perspectives on an american hero

Edited by Jules Tygiel

Dutton, 278 pp., $23.95

A half century after he helped to change his country by the simple act of playing baseball, Jackie Robinson's niche in history is secure. He stands alongside the titans of the Civil Rights movement - W.E.B. Dubois, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and others - as a man who prompted America finally, if reluctantly, to acknowledge and address the stain of its segregation and racism.

Yet, ironically, while Robinson will be the subject of television specials, feature films, newspaper supplements, magazine articles, and ceremonies in all 28 major-league ball parks on this 50th anniversary of his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he still awaits his Boswell.

There are books on Robinson. But the best of them - Jules Tygiel's "Baseball's Great Experiment," Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer" - are not biographies, and the biographies that are on the shelves fall well short of capturing Robinson's life and legacy.

Princeton historian Arnold Rampersad is now at work on an authorized biography that has given him exclusive access to the archives of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, but his work will not be ready this year.

"The Jackie Robinson Reader," a biographical collection of essays edited by Jules Tygiel, makes no grand claims but is a most engaging and revealing collection of writing, and serves as a diverting and serviceable substitute for the life story that Robinson deserves.

It is an eclectic collection by journalists, historians, colleagues, and friends recounting the familiar story of Robinson's life: the impoverished Pasadena childhood, the storybook four-sport heroics at UCLA, the Army court martial, the integration of baseball and the Hall of Fame career that followed it, and finally the post-baseball forays into business, politics, and civil rights.

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