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The Power and the Darkness: The Life of Josh Gibson in the Shadows of the Game [Hardcover]

Mark Ribowsky
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1996
The first full biography of Negro League legend Josh Gibson examines the record-breaking career and tormented personal life of the great athlete, from his dramatic baseball feats to his self-destructive drug and alcohol abuse to his death at age thirty-seven. 15,000 first printing.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Hall-of-Famer Gibson (1911-1947) was to black baseball what Babe Ruth was to white baseball: a prolific home run hitter who also hit for average. He was a victim of the game's color bar and died just three months before Jackie Robinson broke it. In relating Gibson's life, Ribowski (The Complete History of the Negro Leagues, 1884-1955) is handicapped by the paucity of documentation and by the equivocation of many of the catcher's contemporaries in speaking candidly about his drinking and drug abuse. Like many Negro Leaguers of that era, Gibson changed teams several times. He also played in Latin America, where he was a beloved figure. His personal life was darkened by the death of his wife in childbirth, and although he later had a longtime common-law wife, Ribowski raises the question of whether Gibson ever had a happy domestic life. First serial to Interview.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Ribowsky, the author of a fine history of Negro League baseball (The Complete History of the Negro Leagues, LJ 6/1/95) as well as a noteworthy biography of Satchell Paige (Don't Look Back, LJ 2/1/94), presents an insightful account of Gibson's tragic life, which came to an end only months before Jackie Robinson integrated Major League ball. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A sports bio like no other...... Feb. 4 2004
By M. Bell
Format:Hardcover
Josh Gibson was known as "the black Babe Ruth." In his day, he towered over the other batting talent in the negro leagues like a colossus. Legend has it that he hit more than 800 homeruns including the longest one out of Yankee stadium ever recorded. Because of the color barrier, he never made it to "the bigs" and died just three months before Jackie Robinson broke through. Sadly, he remains a footnote in sports history known mostly to true baseball afficianados. However, thanks to this book by Mark Ribowsky, he will never be forgotten and will always be accessible to those interested enough to read it. Like the jazz musician Charlie Parker, he was a womanizing drug abuser who died in his mid-thirties. Both men died long before their immense talent ever had the chance to fade away. They also represented two of America's greatest inventions --- baseball and jazz with incredible style and poise. Interesting details here about Josh's time in the South American leagues fill in gaps in his career record. Poignant insight is also presented about the loss of his first wife which set the stage for his depression, self-abuse and eventual downfall. No less an authority than baseball's greatest hitter Ted Williams used his 1966 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech to praise both Gibson and his pitching counterpart Satchel Paige lobbying for them to be inducted into the hall which they both eventually were. Details, annecdotes and great insights into a great player abound in this book. The writing here by Ribowsky is definitely worthy of his subject.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Josh, the question still remains Aug. 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
I read in anticipation to learn why a strong and powerful man such as Josh Gibson would die at the young age of 36. Yes, there were references to his drinking and drug use. There was mention about him possibly having a brain tumor. That's where the book missed the point. If it was a brain tumor, the author simply skated the issue by saying that the record keeping in the 40's left something to be desired. Certainly there were people to interview who were affiliated with the hospital where he stayed and was diagnosed. I think a stronger case for or against a brain tumor should have been made by the author instead of glossing over the matter. Way too much detail of the balls and strikes of games was given. Who cares about that stuff? I wanted to know about Josh the man and got some of that, but not nearly enough. Page after page was filled with box score details that were meaningless for the most part. If he truly had "many women", who were these people and did any other than Hattie and Grace play a major role in his life? Lots of questions and few answers from the author. Sorry!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Great history of a great black baseball legend Aug. 19 2000
Format:Hardcover
It's easy to see why this writer also wrote a book about Satchel Paige. Their careers are so intertwined, he already had the research. And, in fact, you could almost call this a history of the Negro Baseball League.
The negatives to the book are that it early reads somewhat like a rehash of newspaper articles. The author was forced into this because the two primary sources were the weekly black newspapers and "embellished" word of mouth. The set-up is a little long on the history of the two Pittsburgh teams that Josh played for but since this rivalry was so intertwined with Josh's history, it was almost necessary.
The positives are that this is a classic "tragic hero". Humble beginnings and tragedy, develops into a tremendous player, personal flaws erode his skills, and then he has a young, controversial death. When you overlay that with the rumors and embellishment of his accomplishments, it's easy to see how the legend has grown. The author did a good job of balancing legend with documentable evidence helping the reader draw a conclusion on the stories that may be overstated exaggerations.
This is a great story and a very good read I enjoyed. Obviously, Josh Gibson and Satch Paige paved the way for Jackie Robinson and have their place in baseball history. I STRONGLY encourage you to watch "The Soul of the Game" on HBO which takes the history of Paige, Gibson and Robinson and overlays the facts into a reconstruction. It was one of the best movies I have ever watched and never fails to draw you emotionally into the story. This book and it's careful research, allowed me to realize virtually every scene in the movie was drawn from some fact and not an overstatement.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great history of a great black baseball legend Aug. 19 2000
By R. Spell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's easy to see why this writer also wrote a book about Satchel Paige. Their careers are so intertwined, he already had the research. And, in fact, you could almost call this a history of the Negro Baseball League.
The negatives to the book are that it early reads somewhat like a rehash of newspaper articles. The author was forced into this because the two primary sources were the weekly black newspapers and "embellished" word of mouth. The set-up is a little long on the history of the two Pittsburgh teams that Josh played for but since this rivalry was so intertwined with Josh's history, it was almost necessary.
The positives are that this is a classic "tragic hero". Humble beginnings and tragedy, develops into a tremendous player, personal flaws erode his skills, and then he has a young, controversial death. When you overlay that with the rumors and embellishment of his accomplishments, it's easy to see how the legend has grown. The author did a good job of balancing legend with documentable evidence helping the reader draw a conclusion on the stories that may be overstated exaggerations.
This is a great story and a very good read I enjoyed. Obviously, Josh Gibson and Satch Paige paved the way for Jackie Robinson and have their place in baseball history. I STRONGLY encourage you to watch "The Soul of the Game" on HBO which takes the history of Paige, Gibson and Robinson and overlays the facts into a reconstruction. It was one of the best movies I have ever watched and never fails to draw you emotionally into the story. This book and it's careful research, allowed me to realize virtually every scene in the movie was drawn from some fact and not an overstatement.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful!!! Dec 4 1998
By Grissum C. Smackerson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mark Ribowsky has researched his material and subject very well. A very powerful but sad message comes from this book. Josh Gibson had tremendous and unlimited power and potential. As a victim of a racist America of that time, we will never truly know just how great he could have been. A sad epitaph exists for all Negro League Stars...Statistics are terribly lacking and wrought with inconsistencies. More often than not we are left to the colorful imaginations of those that were witness to this era. No question, they were all highly talented. No question, they were robbed and we were robbed. Josh Gibson is about as poignent a subject as anyone. Such a shame! Thank you, Mark. Thank you for at least allowing us to have a glimpse at what it was like for Josh and many others of a bygone era. It was not an easy time for them. Josh was the one that was hardest hit by the climate. The truth is known, it is ugly, but it is known.
5.0 out of 5 stars A sports bio like no other...... Feb. 4 2004
By M. Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Josh Gibson was known as "the black Babe Ruth." In his day, he towered over the other batting talent in the negro leagues like a colossus. Legend has it that he hit more than 800 homeruns including the longest one out of Yankee stadium ever recorded. Because of the color barrier, he never made it to "the bigs" and died just three months before Jackie Robinson broke through. Sadly, he remains a footnote in sports history known mostly to true baseball afficianados. However, thanks to this book by Mark Ribowsky, he will never be forgotten and will always be accessible to those interested enough to read it. Like the jazz musician Charlie Parker, he was a womanizing drug abuser who died in his mid-thirties. Both men died long before their immense talent ever had the chance to fade away. They also represented two of America's greatest inventions --- baseball and jazz with incredible style and poise. Interesting details here about Josh's time in the South American leagues fill in gaps in his career record. Poignant insight is also presented about the loss of his first wife which set the stage for his depression, self-abuse and eventual downfall. No less an authority than baseball's greatest hitter Ted Williams used his 1966 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech to praise both Gibson and his pitching counterpart Satchel Paige lobbying for them to be inducted into the hall which they both eventually were. Details, annecdotes and great insights into a great player abound in this book. The writing here by Ribowsky is definitely worthy of his subject.
3.0 out of 5 stars More Info Nov. 26 2006
By W. Tillman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Overall this book was an okay read. I would have preferred to read more about Josh Gibson and his personal/family life. This book provided more information on box scores and Negro League history than on Josh Gibson. There was information on him that I had never read about or even heard about for that matter which was Great! Not to say the information about box scores and Negro League history are not important. I think I could have gotten that information from the author's other book he wrote about the history of the Negro Leagues. I would have liked to read more about Josh Gibson personally such as what happened to his twin daughter,what happened to the other women in his life, did he have any more children or is any of his memorabilia in the hall of fame are just a few questions that I would have liked to read about.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Josh, the question still remains Aug. 23 2002
By John Galluppi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I read in anticipation to learn why a strong and powerful man such as Josh Gibson would die at the young age of 36. Yes, there were references to his drinking and drug use. There was mention about him possibly having a brain tumor. That's where the book missed the point. If it was a brain tumor, the author simply skated the issue by saying that the record keeping in the 40's left something to be desired. Certainly there were people to interview who were affiliated with the hospital where he stayed and was diagnosed. I think a stronger case for or against a brain tumor should have been made by the author instead of glossing over the matter. Way too much detail of the balls and strikes of games was given. Who cares about that stuff? I wanted to know about Josh the man and got some of that, but not nearly enough. Page after page was filled with box score details that were meaningless for the most part. If he truly had "many women", who were these people and did any other than Hattie and Grace play a major role in his life? Lots of questions and few answers from the author. Sorry!
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