It was the summer of 1941- the Nazi regime was storming across Europe, Americans were filled with anxiety as its young men were being drafted by the millions, a twenty-three year old man named Ted Williams was in the midst of a season in which he hit .400, and Joe DiMaggio gave us a number that seems unattainable-56. By the end of the year, America would enter the war and Joe D had cemented his place in baseball history.
In "56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number", Kostya Kennedy gives an account of the Yankee Clipper's pursuit of Wee Willie Keeler's 45-game hitting streak that had been set in 1897. While the streak is the focal point, what makes this book so interesting is that Kennedy has entwined other stories with it. In doing so, the author helps the reader to understand how this chase touched the lives of so many Americans-giving them a diversion from what was happening in Europe, as well as a sense of hope during those dark days. Reading like a novel, and using the war as a backdrop, the book portrays the Yankee great as a man driven by perfection and pride-a very private individual who is moody and yet (at least on the exterior) calm as the pressure mounts each day that summer. While the pressures would cause stomach illnesses, Joltin' Joe referred to those days as the best moments in his life. That's an interesting contrast to Henry Aaron, and his comments on his own chase of Ruth's record. The reader also gets a look into his first marriage: while DiMaggio is fighting to keep his streak alive, his wife Dorothy appeared to be fighting to keep their marriage alive. I was disappointed that, though the reader gets the sense that there's tension between he and his brother Dom, there's no real explanation as to why that tension is present-it leaves the reader guessing. In ending the book, Kennedy delves into probability and statistical theory in order to see how likely it is that someone could achieve what DiMaggio did. This section has some dry parts, but is fascinating nonetheless.