Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Remembering David Halberstam:
The Book No One Is Talking About

Remembering David Halberstam: "Education of a Coach." "Summer of '49." "The Teammates." "Playing for Keeps." "The Breaks of the Game."

God, did he write some phenomenal sports books. All covering some of the iconic names of sport – people who mere mortal authors could never do justice to: Belichick and Jordan come to mind.

(Reportedly, the fatal car crash occured en route to do an interview related to something he was writing about the 1958 NFL Championship Game, one of the biggest sports events in American history and something I would have loved to seen filtered through Halberstam.)

A day late, allow me to include my own "David Halberstam rocked my writing world" story, about a book I haven't seen anyone else in sports media mention:

"The Amateurs."

You can not care – at all – about the sport of rowing (and I'm sure you don't), but Halberstam can make you see the beauty and drive and thrill of the sport in a way that makes it well worth your time. (Buy it here.)

As it happens, I was a rower in high school and college, and reading "The Amateurs" not only helped me better understand and articulate and be energized about the sport I was about to spend the next few years of my life devoted to, but it introduced me to Halberstam.

(I remember my mom giving me the book, and I was like, "David Halberstam? Who?" And, as the daughter of a 40-year New York Timesman who overlapped with Halberstam during their respective careers at the paper, she just laughed at my naivete: "Just read it." My mom told me she remembers him being incredibly nice to her when she was in high school and living abroad in college.)

As a young wannabe writer, I was blown away by him. It was one of the earliest moments I can remember where I knew better as a consumer of great writing -- and I knew I was reading it with him.

I'm going to go back and re-read it, because it's been 19 years (and well more than half my life) since I last read it – and since my first exceptional experience reading Halberstam.

Like other of my Page 2 colleagues, I was honored to share byline space on Page 2 with a writer as all-time great as Halberstam. (I had similar feelings about Ralph Wiley and Hunter Thompson.) But it was "The Amateurs" where he and I really connected.

And what has been amazing over the last 24 hours is that fans of all ages and eras have weighed in with their own way that Halberstam's abilities as an author moved them. (And that's just the sports fans -- he had even more fans of his other spectacular non-fiction writing.)

What an incredible legacy to leave.

-- D.S.


Dulton said...

"Summer of '49" may be one of my favorite books I've ever read. It is such a compelling and warming story. It made me painfully envious of a time and lifestyle I'll never know. He truly was an exceptionally gifted writer and will be missed.

Brian in Oxford said...

I heard on TV that he was on his way to interview Y.A. Tittle about the '58 game.

I find it almost strange to realize that guys his age (Hunter Thompson, too) were writing for an internet site like ESPN's page 2, which obviously tries to spin young.

1999 Officers said...

My father gave me 'Teammates' for Christmas a few years ago. What a book. Can anybody else write so vividly about a bunch of geriatrics driving from Boston to Florida. Just an amazing author and person.

J Fitty said...

I have never read any of his books, but I plan to now.