Those of you struggling to please a fella with the right Christmas gift can step up to the plate with confidence this holiday season, because the bases are loaded with great books for guys. Whether you're planning purchases for dad, husband or son, consider the following selections they're guaranteed to score big with the average American male. Though they fell a bit short of the World Series this past baseball season, the New York Yankees, founded in 1903, remain baseball's most storied franchise. In commemoration of the team's 100-year anniversary comes Yankees Century: 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball, a glorious chronological history featuring a comprehensive text by veteran sports editor Glenn Stout, who covers the on- and off-field exploits of the Bronx Bombers. The book also features essays by all-time-great sportswriters and Yankee aficionados such as Ring Lardner, David Halberstam and Ira Berkow. Selected by co-editor Richard A. Johnson, the photos in Yankees Century show the greats in action or in repose, in celebration or in reflection, including some wonderful archival shots from the era pre-dating the construction of Yankee Stadium. Informative and browsable sidebars and appendices offer statistical data on individual and team achievements, as well as thumbnail portraits of the most important Yankee players, managers and front-office executives through the years.
A book with a much broader sports subject is The Gospel According to ESPN: Saints, Saviors & Sinners, edited by former Life magazine managing editor Jay Lovinger. The concept here is a tad esoteric, yet within the volume's general theme equating American sports fanaticism with religious fervor Lovinger pulls together wonderful writing and skads of color and black-and-white photos that illustrate not only the U.S. sporting life but elements of our popular culture, too. After an interesting and typically quirky introduction by notable (and so-called "gonzo") journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the text fans out into five basic sections "Prophets," "Fallen Angels," "Saints," "Saviors," and "Gods" written by superior journalists including Robert Lipsyte, Peter Carlson, Le Anne Schreiber, Ralph Wiley and George Plimpton.
Among the some 30 various athletes falling into appropriate categories are Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose, O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods, Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Billie Jean King. There's also coverage of two world-class racehorses, Ruffian and Secretariat. The pictorial material is simply a diverse delight, including action shots of the athletes, excerpts from pertinent cartoons (e.g., "Doonesbury"), Time and Life magazine covers, old baseball cards, reproductions of classical art, childhood Polaroids, and many priceless candid photos of the subjects in both somber and silly moments. Scattered throughout the text are fun lists of sports-related trivia.
So OK, maybe a lot of guys are driving European- and Japanese-made imported automobiles these days, but that shouldn't stop any car buff from wanting to partake of Russ Banham's The Ford Century: Ford Motor Company and the Innovations That Shaped the World. Banham, a business writer for magazines such as Forbes and Time, offers a readable and consistently interesting text that charts the history of the industry giant, from Henry Ford's first Quadricycle, constructed in a brick shed in the rear of his Detroit home, to the company's more recent advancements in SUV and truck design. But Banham doesn't merely describe the Ford product here. We also learn all about the generations of the Ford family and their recurring role in the business; the development of assembly-line manufacturing; labor issues; safety and environmental modifications; high-profile management figures such as Lee Iacocca; Ford's presence on the racing-car scene; and the company's role as a vital cog in military production during wartime. The accompanying photographs wonderfully illustrate Banham's corporate history. Many of these images, drawn from private collections and the Ford Archives, have never been published, and they are remarkable in their variety and their scope, including advertising art, pertinent views of items of pop culture and rare photos of Henry I hanging out with his buddy Thomas Edison. Of course, the car photos are purely captivating, especially a center section featuring a color cavalcade of models ranging from the 1914 Model T, to the 1941 Lincoln Continental, to the 1955 Thunderbird, to the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 (James Bond's favorite mode of transport), on up to the 1991 Ford Explorer. In many ways, the history of Ford Motor Company is the history of modern American business. This rare volume's conscious attempt to place Ford and its products within the American sociocultural context is hugely successful.
Finally, for the more free-spirited motorist male, there's 100 Years of Harley-Davidson, written by Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the company's co-founders. Believe it or not, the famous motorcycle manufacturer's story is similar to Ford's. Run by a tight-knit family, the Harley-Davidson enterprise has been characterized by dedication to quality and a vested interest in its much smaller but incredibly loyal customer base. Davidson relates the company history with pride and clarity, discussing mechanical and styling innovations, marketing successes and failures, the rise of H-D dealerships, H-D's production of vehicles for military use, and the motorcycle's growing image as one of rebelliousness (which he primarily discounts as the by-product of exaggerated media hype). With candor, Davidson also revisits a decade-long period in the 60s and 70s when the company was sold to a multinational conglomerate, a relationship that didn't work out (the family has since regained ownership). But with all due respect to Davidson's narrative, the approximately 500 color and black-and-white photos tell the story a bit more vividly. All the pictures are stunning, especially a series of double-page spreads featuring popular cycle models, along with descriptions of stylistic innovations and a rundown of powertrain and chassis specifications. A beautiful book, as singular as Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the film that made motorcycles famous.
Martin Brady writes from Nashville.