Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn: a review

This book is not perfect–there’s more repetition than I’d like, and Thorn comes very close to alleging that the creation of the Doubleday myth was a true conspiracy. Nonetheless: An absolutely delightful work of baseball history. Everyone interested should read it.

This is a well-researched history of baseball’s origins. Baseball wasn’t really invented, of course, but Thorn makes a good case that certain individuals were very important to its development as an institution. This is, in one sense, obvious; what’s perhaps less obvious is who some of those individuals actually were. This part of the book is well-done and, on the whole, convincing.

The book’s other theme is the paired Doubleday and Cartwright stories which have long been “accepted” (one always with serious reservations) as describing baseball’s roots. The Doubleday story is so obviously weak that its genesis (and success) are worth exploring, which Thorn does at great length. Most of his discussion is convincing. The Cartwright story’s weaknesses are issues of fact, but Thorn doesn’t really challenge the notion that the Knickerbocker rules were a key development in the standardization and institutionalization of the game. What he substitutes is a much more nuanced picture of the development of the “New York game” and its place in the larger picture.

Thorn’s style is informal and chatty, with well-disguised footnotes. On the whole, it works well.

Fun read; highly recommended.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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