When I first heard there would be a new Mickey Mantle autobiography, I cringed a little.
I've read The Mick and All My Octobers and countless narratives and analytical articles dedicated to Mantle's greatness, his faults and his superhuman prowess.
Then along comes Jane Leavy's The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, which provides a breath of fresh air to traditional chronological biography.
Leavy's episodic approach to Mantle rightly presumes that her readers are already familiar with the ending of his story, relieving the narrative of the suspension of disbelief quality that so often makes biographies and histories stogy. This approach also allows Last Boy to become equal parts anthropology and media study, exploring the reasons the nation, especially the baby bombers, embraced the myth of Mantle so readily, and how the cozy relationship between the sports writers and the players allowed Mantle to hide his worst qualities and magnify he best.
For example, Chapter 6 (a personal favorite) explores "tape measure home run" Mantle drove out of Griffith Stadium in 1953. Section 1 sets the scene: a brief history and description of Griffith Stadium, the pitch and the flight of the ball, and Yankee PR Director Arthur Patterson's account of finding the ball. Section 2 begins the long search for Donald Dunaway, the "surprised and delighted Negro lad" from Patterson's story. Section 3 completes the Dunaway quest, filling in his background and laying out his version of the story. In Section 4, Leavy brings in a leading physicist to evaluate the possible trajectories of the ball.
Last Boy is a fantastic read, hard to put down, and with an interesting insight or anecdote on every page. Add to that the refreshing quality of the narrative, and the real work and exploration done by Leavy, and this may become the classic book about Mantle, the people who loved him, and the fans who adored him.
I thought the exploration of Mantle's relationship with the media was one of the most insightful aspects of the book- the way it allowed Mantle to get away with anything, and fed his personal disregard for social niceties.