Montville, Leigh

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MONTVILLE, Leigh

PERSONAL:

Male. Education: Graduated from the University of Connecticut.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Winthrop, MA.

CAREER:

New Haven Journal-Courier, New Haven, CT, reporter, 1965-68; Boston Globe, Boston, MA, sportswriter and columnist, 1968-89; Sports Illustrated, senior writer, 1989-c. 2000.

WRITINGS:

Manute: The Center of Two Worlds (biography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Jim Calhoun) Dare to Dream: Connecticut Basketball's Remarkable March to the National Championship, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 1999.

At the Altar of Speed: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.

Why Not Us? The 86-year Journey of the Boston Red Sox Fans from Unparalleled Suffering to the Promised Land of the 2004 World Series, Public Affairs Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Veteran journalist Leigh Montville has written about a wide variety of sports, including basketball, baseball, football, and auto racing. He worked at a number of periodicals over the course of three decades, including the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated.

A highly unusual pro basketball player is the subject of Manute: The Center of Two Worlds. This book chronicles the experiences of Manute Bol, a native of a rural village in the Sudan who attracted the attention of college recruiters and later the National Basketball Association (NBA) because of his remarkable height—seven feet, seven inches. Bol's skill proved less remarkable as he played for a succession of NBA teams, but his low scoring average was balanced out somewhat by his shot-blocking ability and the fact that Bol's "presence on the court requires adjustments by opposing teams," noted a Kirkus Reviews commentator. Bol also has faced the challenge of living in an environment very different from that of his homeland, and this is a major focus of Montville's book. Bol's tribe, the Dinka, has no written language and few material possessions; in the United States, the athlete was plunged into a world of money and luxury. The author "masterfully re-creates the cultural shock Bol experienced," remarked Wes Lukowsky in Booklist. The author also illustrates how the basketball player manages to "fit into both worlds simply by being himself," reported a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who further commented that Manute is an "unusual sports biography." The Kirkus Reviews critic summed up the book as a "captivating look at a unique individual."

At the Altar of Speed: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt came out just a few months after Earnhardt, a star NASCAR driver, was killed at age forty-nine during the Daytona 500 race on February 18, 2001. Earnhardt, a North Carolina native and son of a locally renowned racer, dropped out of school in the ninth grade to begin his racing career and eventually became a driver of great ability and daring, dubbed "The Intimidator," a moniker he disliked. He won seven Winston Cup championships and helped boost the popularity of stock car racing as well as polish the image of what had been considered a "hillbilly" sport. He had some difficulty with personal relationships, with two failed marriages before he was able to establish a satisfying family life, but he tended to talk little about such private matters—so there is little about them in Montville's book. Aside from that, the author "skillfully unspools the story of Earnhardt's life," related Charles Hirshberg in Sports Illustrated. New York Times Book Review contributor Dave Caldwell found the biography "treacherously thin in spots," but also "rich in anecdotes." A Kirkus Reviews critic thought Montville uses "what approaches an idolatrous voice" in discussing Earnhardt; however, the reviewer concluded that the author created a "forceful portrait" of the auto racer.

In 2004 Montville followed up At the Altar of Speed with another sports-related biography, Ted Williams:The Biography of an American Hero. Williams was a famous baseball player during the 1940s and 1950s, and was known for accomplishing many sporting feats, but also had the reputation of having a fiery temper and a wandering eye. The author documents all aspects of Williams's life, from his career highlights to his multiple personal relationships, from his fishing hobby to his sports-related injuries. Critics responded positively to Montville's book, citing it as a benchmark for other works in the genre. Ted Williams is a "baseball biography against which all others should be measured," wrote Dave Fitzsimmons in a review for Nine. Others enjoyed the author's insight into the life and times of a man many have written about but few understood. Montville gives readers a "fascinating study of the man and the myth," noted Kliatt contributor Sunnie Grant.

In 2006 Montville switched gears when he wrote about the fans behind one of the most loved baseball teams in the United States instead of an individual sports figure. Why Not Us? The 86-year Journey of the Boston Red Sox Fans from Unparalleled Suffering to the Promised Land of the 2004 World Series documents a number of individual fans' stories of their relationship with the Boston Red Sox. Tales range from the lengths a yoga instructor went to in order to ensure the team's success in the World Series to the author's own fanciful recollection of being in the stadium for the team's ultimate victory. Readers responded positively to Montville's format and subject matter as a whole. The book "offers wonderful insight into the passions" of the often anonymous fans that root for the Red Sox every day, commented Ted Westervelt in a review for School Library Journal. Other reviewers praised the variety of stories documented and the thoughtful manner in which Montville approached his subjects. Why Not Us contains a collection of "crisply told stories," wrote Sports Illustrated contributor Charles Hirshberg.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Booklist, February 1, 1993, Wes Lukowsky, review of Manute: The Center of Two Worlds, p. 966.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1992, review of Manute, p. 1559; September 1, 2001, review of At the Altar of Speed: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt, p. 1271.

Kliatt, November, 2004, Sunnie Grant, review of Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, p. 57.

New York Times Book Review, October 28, 2001, Dave Caldwell, "Amazing Racer," review of At the Altar of Speed, p. 20.

Nine, fall, 2005, Dave Fitzsimmons, review of Ted Williams, p. 186.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1992, review of Manute, p. 49.

School Library Journal, May, 2005, Ted Westervelt, review of Why Not Us? The 86-year Journey of the Boston Red Sox Fans from Unparalleled Suffering to the Promised Land of the 2004 World Series, p. 171.

Sports Illustrated, September 3, 2001, Charles Hirshberg, "Compassion Drives a Paean to Dale Earnhardt and His Legions of Grieving Fans," p. R10; April 25, 2005, Charles Hirshberg, review of Why Not Us?, p. Z2.*

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