“Luckiest Man” Book Review. (More Jersey Updates Forthcoming Next Week.)

January 15th, 2011 by Al Lewis (alewis)

One of our WhytheHeck Facebook friends suggested Luckiest Man, the most recent biography of Lou Gehrig.  I just finished it (in one sitting — couldn’t put it down) and am writing to recommend it.   While much of Gehrig’s career and early life had already been chronicled (curiously, no one has chronicled his speech, of which there are no intact transcriptions), Luckiest Man is of especial interest to our group because this painstakingly researched book — which includes access to personal letters than no previous biographer had known about — includes many details of his decline due to ALS.    He wrote to his doctors at length, possibly more at length than any surviving patient letters anywhere, about the changes in his body.   (I should warn others who have gone through this that it will bring back painful memories to read the part where he describes his deterioration.)

Two things that haven’t changed are, of course, the treatment and  — more surprisingly — the way the diagnosis is made.   There are diseases for which there is no cure, but even those diseases usually have a treatment that can halt or slow the progress.  We have none of the above.   Even the diagnosis lacks a specific test, and — possibly uniquely in medicine –  is done exactly the same way today that it was done 70 years ago, through examination and history.   One thing that has changed is, Gehrig was given lots of hope.  It is unclear whether and when he knew the real prognosis.

I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who reads the prologue (cut-and-paste below — for some reason it doesn’t show up as a link) will want to read the entire book.

http://www.amazon.com/Luckiest-Man-Life-Death-Gehrig/dp/B000W3W8PA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1295114131&sr=1-1#reader_B000W3W8PA

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I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautifully written section of any biography (and I read a lot of ‘em) than the prologue to this one.  At the risk of spoiling the “ending” to the  2- page prologue, it turns out that Lou almost didn’t give a speech.   It appears, according to witnesses, that he was walking away from the podium (having received his gifts), when his manager (remember, he was still on the Yankee payroll and Joe McCarthy was still his boss and Gehrig was a model employee), talked to him and turned him around to face the microphones.     I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.

As an aside, the author, Jonathan Eig, has subsequently become a WhytheHeck facebook friend as well and has been quite supportive of our efforts.

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4 Responses to ““Luckiest Man” Book Review. (More Jersey Updates Forthcoming Next Week.)”

  1. Schneider Says:

    I’ve read every Gehrig bio since my best friend died of ALS. this was the best.

  2. Jonathan Eig Says:

    Thank you, Al, for these generous words of praise. They mean a lot to me.

  3. sallyp Says:

    Anything that raises awareness of ALS is great. I’ll read it too but I’m too cheap to buy it new.

  4. harvardeconomist Says:

    see if the author knows anyone at the Yankees

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