Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Five unforgettable memoirs

Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer and the memoir Into My Own, recently described five outstanding memoirs for Opinion Journal.

Here are two of the titles:

The Nightmare Years: 1930-1940 by William L. Shirer (Little, Brown, 1984)

The personal account by the famous foreign correspondent of what it was like to cover Germany during the Hitler years and to live inside the Third Reich. We join him as he drinks beer and eats sausage with such as Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. In the Bavarian Alps he sees a Nazi road sign: "Drive Carefully! Sharp Curve. Jews 75 Kilometers an Hour!" Shirer read Hitler's intentions sooner than most. He relates titanic events in a warm human voice that makes unforgettable reading.

Wait Till Next Year by Carl T. Rowan with Jackie Robinson (Random House, 1960)

This is a wholly honest account of the life of baseball's great pioneer, and the best of all the Robinson books. Jack speaks, sounding much as he did in life, and Rowan provides connective material. Robinson remembers his early days in Pasadena, Calif., after his mother had fled racist Georgia, and one very hot afternoon when a sheriff ordered him out of the reservoir where Robinson and some friends were wading. "Looka here," said the sheriff behind a gun. "Niggers in my drinking water." Robinson lettered in four sports at UCLA and was commissioned a captain in the U.S. cavalry. The Army actually court-martialed him for refusing to sit in the back of a military bus. After a harsh trial, he was acquitted. Triumph came when Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the first African-American allowed to play major league baseball since 1884. He recounts his Dodger years with great vigor. Unfortunately, Doris Kearns Goodwin later wrote a memoir about her supposed days as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, lifting Robinson's title verbatim. That is not illegal but neither is it very nice. Stick with the original, by an original.

Click here to see Kahn's other three selections.

--Marshal Zeringue