NONFICTION VERSUS FICTION—42. It makes a big difference whether we are reading fiction or nonfiction. Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times (September 12) reviewed 42, the movie about Jackie Robinson’s becoming the first black major league baseball player since the 19th century. This was a major event in American history. It happened in 1947 when America was heavily segregated, and it was a landmark in the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was a great baseball player. (This was a factor in Branch Rickey’s asking him to take on the enormous challenge of breaking the color line. The thought was that the resistance to a good player would be less.) Andrews doesn’t know this about Robinson so he reviews the movie as if Robinson’s success was fictionalized (as in Rocky and a host of other movies). He says about 42: “Its corny triumphalism is barely bearable….. Have a guess at the story that emerges. Does Robinson (a) flop and get fired? Or (b) fit painlessly into a middling-competent team? Or (c) overcome prejudice and hatred to achieve baseball glory…?”

Of course, (c) is what—in fact—happened.

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  1. Does it seem impossible that history can yield an uplifting narrative?

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