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Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias [Hardcover]

Don Van Natta

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Book Description

June 2 2011
This is the extraordinary story of a nearly forgotten American superstar athlete.

Texas girl Babe Didrikson never tried a sport too tough and never met a hurdle too high. Despite attempts to keep women from competing, Babe achieved All-American status in basketball and won gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics.

Then Babe attempted to conquer golf.

One of the founders of the LPGA, Babe won more consecutive tournaments than any golfer in history. At the height of her fame, she was diagnosed with cancer. Babe would then take her most daring step of all: go public and try to win again with the hope of inspiring the world.

A rollicking saga, stretching across the first half of the 20th century, WONDER GIRL is as fresh, heartfelt, and graceful as Babe herself.

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Review

"Van Natta constructs a satisfying if bittersweet narrative...It's to [his] credit, and her own, that we find ourselves caring not just for the great athlete, but for the person she was as well."—Kate Tuttle, Boston Sunday Globe

"Finally, the definitive account of the extraordinary adventures of the one and only Babe Didrikson Zaharias, expertly and lovingly rendered by Don Van Natta. From the track to the tee to the stage, the greatest of all female athletes--arguably the greatest of all athletes, period--stirs vividly to life. Comprehensively reported and elegantly told, funny and tragic, Wonder Girl is an indispensable testament to the epic gifts of an American original."—Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter and author of Cinderella Man and Triumph

"A spirited biography about the courage and chutzpah of a tough, fun-loving Texan, who, as Van Natta says, "once upon a time could do everything but fly"...Van Natta doesn't just recount the Babe's incredible life, career and vicious person attacks on her tomboy looks and behavior...He gives the 5-foot-6 ¿ but larger-than-life sports legend the lively treatment she deserves...He makes her dribble, shoot, run, jump, bat, pitch, drive and putt off its 256 pages."—Jane Sumner, Dallas Morning News

"Full-bodied and honest....Wonder Girl offers the definitive account of Babe's life, ignoring the legend for the real story-one that needs no embellishment."—Colleen Kelly, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"I didn't know a whole lot of things about Babe until I picked up Wonder Girl, a new biography by Don Van Natta Jr., about one of the most remarkable (and remarkably unappreciated) women who ever walked (and ran) the Earth ...what I didn't know would fill a book. Luckily, it fills Van Natta's book. Van Natta tells her tale compellingly, warts and all, holding back nothing. The contradictions of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, loved and hated, immortalized and forgotten, are detailed by Van Natta in equal measure."—Mike Downey, Los Angeles Times

"Don Van Natta has turned one of the most famous athletes in history into a fresh revelation. Van Natta is everywhere she is-from the track to Vaudeville stage, from The Ed Sullivan Show to the 18th hole and peels away the brash veneer on the irrepressible Babe Didrikson Zaharias to reveal the personal arc of an invincible woman who ends up inspiring a nation. By deftly mining all sides of Babe, Van Natta provides remarkable dimension to an American heroine."—Selena Roberts, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez

"Babe Didrikson Zaharias-named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top ten athletes of the twentieth century -has long been shrouded in myth. Now, at long last, Don Van Natta Jr. brilliantly tells the real story behind the hubristic Olympic gold medalist who became the greatest female golfer in history. Wonder Girl is a deeply compelling and warm-hearted biography about an evergreen American sports legend. A marvelous scholarly accomplishment and a page-turner to boot."—Douglas Brinkley, author of The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960

"Van Natta's meticulously researched book opens up this era the way Laura Hillenbrand's wonderful Seabiscuit: An American Legend opened up the world of horseracing in the same period..."—John Paul Newport, The Wall Street Journal

"Babe Didrikson Zaharias gets the biography she deserves....[Van Natta] brings Babe back to life in all her rough-edged, indomitable glory....It's a remarkable story, and Van Natta tells it with grace and humor. He doesn't beatify Babe....but keeps his eye on the ball."—Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times

"Wonder Girl is a wonderful read about a woman who charged through life shattering stereotypes on the playing fields and off. As a boy I followed her amazing career in the sports pages as she changed the face of golf and the Olympics but now, thanks to Don Van Natta, I have the complete story of this authentically American trail blazer who was so much more than just a gifted athlete."—Tom Brokaw

"On reading this charmingly evocative narrative of a woman named Babe, I couldn't help but be reminded of Muhammad Ali. Didrikson shared the same pizzazz, raw physical talent, and indomitable spirit of the great Ali, plus the penchant for breaking barriers. Finally there is a biography worthy of her remarkable story."—Neal Bascomb, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Mile

"The Babe has largely been hailed as America's preeminent female athlete, but as Don Van Natta Jr. makes clear in his wonderfully detailed and beautifully written account of her life, this was one gutsy, poetic, and ultimately endearing dame who rose from the heartland to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any American sports legend. I haven't enjoyed a sports biography this much in years."—Jim Dodson, bestselling author of Final Rounds, A Son of the Game, and Ben Hogan: An American Life

"Don Van Natta's gripping portrait of Babe Didrikson Zaharias sheds valuable light on the history of women in sports and in the public eye, and brings back to vivid life a woman whose drive and raw talent made her among the most accomplished athletes of all time, but about whom we have remembered far too little."—Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry

About the Author

Don Van Natta is an investigative correspondent for the New York Times. He has been a member of three Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, and is the author of First off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush and Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Bio June 4 2011
By Independent thinker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Wonder Girl is an incredible and wonderful biography of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

More than a sports or golf book, Van Natta writes a compelling story of the greatest athlete of all time and shows her from every angle, warts and all, as she trail blazed through the first half of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Babe is largely forgotten today as the super star she was back in the early half of the last century. A front line warrior for woman's rights in sports, Olympic gold medalist, founder of the LPGA, and the first celebrity to fearlessly bring cancer awareness into America's living room, Babe did it all in such a short time.

Van Natta brings all of these acomplishments and more back to the forefront for the public who have forgotten her in his new book in a compassionate, honest and reverent manner. Wonder Girl is a moving portrait of one of America's greatest daughters and a must read for all.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! And not just for sports fans! June 5 2011
By Kate J - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had heard of Babe Didrikson before I read the book but had no idea what an amazing athlete she was! A female Jim Thorpe. Beyond her athletic achievements, she was a fantastic character and her life was filled with both major achievements and challenges - her sporting life as well as her personal life. If she was alive today she would easily be among the most famous athletes in the world.

Any sports fan will of course love this book. But its not just for sports fan. Babe was such a character and lived such an interesting life that you don't have to be a sports fan to love this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest athletes of all time Oct. 15 2011
By Barry Sparks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When Sports Illustrated selected its top athletes of the 20th century, Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the only woman listed among the top 10. She was in the elite company of Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Willie Mays and Jack Nicklaus.

After reading Wonder Girl, you'll understand why Babe was an easy choice to be listed about the 10 greatest athletes of the 20th century.

Author Don Van Natta Jr. does a commendable job of bringing Babe to life for the generations of sports fans who are too young to remember her. Babe died in 1956 from cancer at the age of 45.

Growing up in Texas, Babe's goal was to be "the greatest athlete who ever lived." In 1932, Babe single-handedly won the AAU National Women's Track and Field Championships in Chicago. She was the only team member to represent Employers' Casualty. Competing in an unheard of eight events against 20 teams, some with 22 members, Babe tallied 30 points to win the team title. She won gold in five events--broad jump, baseball toss, shot put, javelin and 80 meters hurdles, and she tied for first in the high jump. She qualified for the Olympics in three events, hurdles, high jump and javelin.

In the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, Babe won two gold medals and a silver medal. She was disqualified in the high jump, finishing second. She set two world's records and an Olympic record. Grantland Rice wrote that Babe was "the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination the world of sport has ever known."

Despite her athletic prowess, Babe wasn't easy for her teammates and fellow competitors to like. She could be cocky, arrogant, selfish, obnoxious, boastful and a media hog.

Invited to play golf with Grantland Rice and a few of his male friends, Babe demonstrated a powerful, precise golf swing and the ability to drive the ball 250 yards or more. Impressed, Rice wrote that Babe was the "world's greatest athlete."

With no professional sports outlet, Babe was relegated to barnstorming with basketball and baseball teams, earning up to $1,000 a month during the Depression when women typically earned $3 a week.

She saw her future was in golf, and for a couple years she practiced 12 to 15 hours a day. She went on to dominate women's amateur golf, being named AP Female Athlete of the Year from 1945-1947. In 1947, she became the first American to win the British Amateur, the most prestigious women's tournament in Europe. She won 14 consecutive tournaments from 1946-47, more than any other female or male golfer in history. She turned pro in August 1947.

Endorsing products and playing in golf and baseball exhibitions kept her in the spotlight. From 1948-1951, Babe gave a staggering 656 golf exhibitions. In 1948, she earned more than $100,000 in endorsements and exhibitions, more than baseball great Ted Williams.

In 1949, the LPGA was formed and Babe was one of four charter members. From 1950-55, Babe won 29 professional tournaments. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1953. In 1955, 15 months after major cancer surgery, Babe won the U.S. Women's Open by 12 strokes. In April 1955, Babe won the last tournament she played in.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent book July 29 2011
By nationalsfan1 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Wonder Girl" is a wonderful book. It not only gives you information about Babe but about the era and the way amateur and professional athletes were treated by the sports' governing bodies. Van Natta wrote in such a way that the book didn't read like a by-the-numbers biography. I couldn't put it down and while I knew how the story ends, I was still brought to tears by Van Natta's description of Babe's last days.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonder Girl-Babe Zaharias-GRIPPING Bio! Feb. 3 2012
By Mary Ann Tayloe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book literally draws you in. I could not put it down. The author does an remarkable job of capturing the personality of his subject. He also does an outstanding job of explaining her behavior-both the good and the not so good. Babe Zaharias was the best woman athlete and one of the all time best athletes PERIOD. She did this during a time when women were not recognized for athletic abilty and the sport of golf was in its infancy.
Her fearless determination and bold personality, coupled with her natural athletic abilty make for a very interesting and absorbing read. Babe won the Women's US Open Golf event 18 months after colon cancer surgery and a colostomy. That achievement alone is one of truly herculean proportions. At the time (1950's) cancer was considered a death sentence and in the case of colon cancer, most people simply accepted their misfortune and prepared to die. Babe put a different spin on that and as a result more people opted for surgery. Babe demonstrated that one can go on and live a productive life with a colostomy. I hope that this story is made into a movie as I did not know alot about Babe until I read this book. I do not believe that history has given her the credit and distinction that she deserves.
I have read lot of books and this is one of the best that I have come across.
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