One sign of spring that’s at least as welcome as a blooming crocus is the annual flowering of baseball books. This year’s crop includes Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era , by Charles C. Alexander, perhaps the most distinguished living baseball historian (Columbia University Press, 353 pages, $29.95); Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Sixteen Perfect Games , by James Buckley, Jr. (Triumph, 256 pages, $24.95), with a foreword by Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who pitched one of the 16; and The Baseball Almanac: Big Bodacious Book of Baseball , by Dan Schlossberg (Triumph, 384 pages [softcover], $14.95), which is not nearly as cutesy as the title would suggest.
Consider the form of transportation that is most emblematic of each American region’s early days. For the East it’s the sailing ship: hardy, adventurous, and self-reliant. For the South it’s the riverboat: stately, impressive, and leisurely. For the Midwest it’s the railroad: practical-minded and efficient. But for the West it’s the stagecoach, preferably racing across an empty landscape with armed men riding shotgun. In Gold Rush days one company dominated that business, and its protean history from the 1850s to the present—which is in many ways the history of the whole region—is told ably in Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West , by Philip L. Fradkin (Simon & Schuster, 250 pages, $27.50).
How many speeches since the Sermon on the Mount have been important enough to inspire whole books? Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” oration comes to mind, as does Washington’s Farewell Address, though that was never read to an audience. The all-time champion in books-to-words ratio, however, must be Abraham Lincoln. The 273 words of his Gettysburg Address have inspired at least two dozen books, and now his 703-word Second Inaugural Address has gotten its own extended treatment in Lincoln’s Greatest Speech , by Ronald C. White, Jr. (Simon & Schuster, 254 pages, $24.00). White details Lincoln’s lifelong struggle to reconcile his political and social beliefs with the will of God and shows how the speech’s biblical cadences and wording, as well as its message, were shaped by the President’s religious fervor.