Cricket Web Book of The Year 2009Martin Chandler |
As the years have rolled by and I have read more and more books about the game I have developed a habit, particularly with biographies, of always starting at the back of the book where I find you can generally get an immediate feel for how good the read is going to be.
The first thing I look at is the index. Some books don’t have them and its not unusual in those cases that I proceed no further. Often the index is just of names, which is better than nothing, but what I call a full index is the exception. I assume that even in the computer age indexing must be a fairly tedious and time consuming exercise and my experience is that if a publisher/author has gone to the trouble of producing a good index then that is a good indication of the care that has gone into the book itself.
Moving back from the index you get the bibliography. I like to see a long bibliography as it is a sign of thorough research although as with many aspects of life size isn’t everything. A promising bibliography refers not only to a large number of cricket books but also needs a liberal sprinkling of volumes that aren’t related to the game together with a generous helping of contemporary newspapers, magazines and other journals.
The next move backwards is to the acknowledgments. These really are crucial as they tell me who the author has actually spoken to or met and what personal material relating to his subject that he has had access to. First, second or even thirdhand accounts add colour and life to stories that the prose of others alone simply cannot achieve thus a long and varied list of acknowledgments is a very welcome sight.
The next step back in a biography almost always brings the statistical appendix. A man’s career in figures is important but I have learnt that frequently “less is more” when it comes to these details. A comprehensive statistical section is something I am wary of as it tends to indicate that the author’s emphasis is going to be on his subject as a cricketer rather than as a man and at the end of the day I want to know about the latter – for unadulterated statistics I am quite capable of navigating my way through Wisden and CricketArchive without an author’s help.
After a quick look at the stats its back to the beginning of the book for the narrative and that neatly brings me back to the award for CW Book of the Year 2009. It is Duncan Hamilton’s “Harold Larwood: the Authorised Biography of the World’s Fastest Bowler”
Anyone who has read this will know the pedestal on which I place Harold Larwood and that probably makes me, having read so much about him, a harsher judge of any biographical work about him than I would be for any other subject and while I approached this book with great anticipation I had, at the same time, very real concerns that the book might not do justice Larwood.
I was pleased to note on opening the book, at the back of course, that all my initial criteria were met. There is an excellent index, mouth watering bibliography and a list of acknowledgments which is remarkable in its breadth and diversity. The statistics are an excellent summary and nothing more. There is also something else at the back of the book and that is a series of brief pen pictures of the men whose names appear most frequently in the text which is not something I recall seeing in a cricketing biography before, is a very clever idea, and will be invaluable to any reader who comes to the book without a great deal of knowledge of the era in which Larwood played.
The content I have already described in my review.It is as outstanding a narrative as I have seen in any book this year. Duncan Hamilton spent two years engaged on the project and it certainly shows. In his words “You must be fair and objective but you always have to like the person you are writing about. Imagine going out with someone for nearly two years and not liking them – it would be murder”.