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Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  471 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
Think you know how the game of baseball began? Think again.

Forget Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown. Forget Alexander Joy Cartwright and the New York Knickerbockers. Instead, meet Daniel Lucius Adams, William Rufus Wheaton, and Louis Fenn Wadsworth, each of whom has a stronger claim to baseball paternity than Doubleday or Cartwright.

But did baseball even have a father—or d
ebook, 384 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published March 1st 2011)
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carl  theaker
Aug 03, 2016 carl theaker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to carl by: Jackie Theaker
Shelves: sportz
Official Historian of Major League Baseball John Thorn takes on the sacred legends of the game rather aggressively, “You’re not one of those idiots that believe Abner Doubleday invented the game are you?”

“Er, no John, I don’t think so,” I reply, holding the book a little farther away.

“Well you’d be a real moron if you did!”

Thorn goes on to excoriate the 1905 Mills commission, which came to the conclusion that Doubleday invented the game, as if it just came out in the press yesterday, such is h
Jun 26, 2011 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book...frustrating. So many interesting little facts about early baseball are scattered throughout: gambling and carousing were a problem from the very beginning, early baseball players were basically free agents like they are now, going to a different team every year for a bigger payout, there were a whole bunch of African-American players on integrated professional teams in the 1870s/80s, some guy came up with the designated hitter 120 years ago, the New York Mets were a team way back whe ...more
Sep 15, 2011 Barbara marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teresa
Recommended to Barbara by: NPR
I recently heard an interview with this author, John Thorn on NPR. He is the Official Baseball Historian for Major League baseball. It was an intriguing discussion during which he told many facts dating much further back in history than I would have expected.


I was unable to complete my reading of this book because the library requested that I return it. It offers many of the interesting facts and anecdotes which please the b
Theo Logos
I give three stars because of the information it contains. The writing is dry, and often a labor to plow through.
Jun 27, 2011 jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baseball
as the official historian for major league baseball and chief consultant to ken burns' magnificent 10-part documentary series baseball, john thorn surely ranks as one of the most knowledgeable individuals on our national pastime. his familiarity with and insight to the great game's convoluted and much-disputed history is seemingly voluminous. throughout baseball in the garden of eden: the secret history of the early game, thorn chronicles baseball's formative years and dispels many of its centur ...more
May 31, 2012 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baseball's origins might not seem to be the most exciting topic to read about. For most baseball fans, it doesn't really matter how we got to where we are today. However, Thorn does an excellent job in explaining the very shadowy origins (many of them mythical) of baseball and how it helped to change a game created mostly as a chance for social exercise for New York office workers in the 1830s and 1840s into "the National Pastime" followed with almost religious fervor.

Some of this ground was cov
Oliver Bateman
May 13, 2011 Oliver Bateman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tremendously detailed--if at points difficult to follow (three old cat? rounders? wicket? town ball?)--account of the early years of the national pastime. Thorn's work in the archives would be impressive in any case, but it's even more remarkable when one considers that it had been put in the service of a baseball book. Some of his findings, such as the crucial role played by the Theosophical Society in the development of the sport's creation myth, are quite intriguing. The contextual details ...more
Aug 11, 2013 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a scholarly well-researched book on the origins of baseball and its early years. It has all you want to know and then some! That is really my only gripe about the book. I think some of the information could have been left out and it would have made it more enjoyable to read without taking away from the pertinent history of the game. If you like baseball, as I do, I don't think it is a waste of time to read this book.
Couldn't get through Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game. The prose was dense and laborious, although I can tell that it is well-researched and fairly well-executed. I just couldn't do it.
Brad Hodges
In the first decade of the twentieth century, a commission was formed to determine the origins of baseball. Laughably, the word of a man who grew up in Cooperstown, New York was taken at face value. He said, that, in 1939, a young man named Abner Doubleday drew up the diamond, set the rules, and a sport was born. This man's name was Abner Graves, and he was five years old at the time. No matter that Doubleday was at West Point at the time, or never made any mention of baseball during of after hi ...more
May 21, 2011 Gregory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction

The purported aim of John Thorn's Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game is to settle the question of where baseball originated. Was it purely American (and therefore virtuous according to its advocates 100 years ago) or did it derive from English rounders (and therefore unoriginal)? The depth of research is truly impressive, as he digs all the way from archives into classified ads in obscure northeastern newspapers. But
Jul 19, 2011 MacK rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, baseball
I said in my review of Darryl Brock's Havana Heat that there are two kinds of baseball nerds: the math nerds and the story nerds. I am a story nerd--not surprising given that I spend my free time writing about baseball and the baseball stories I read. But honestly, truly and sincerely, my nerdiness has nothing, nothing on John Thorn's nerdiness.

Major League Baseball's official historian, John Thorn savors each chance he gets to chronicle the early days of baseball and his passion and enthusiasm
Todd Stockslager
Jun 04, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sports
Review title: America's game invented
It is a well-known absurdity by now that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY. John Thorn brings a scholar's approach and an archeological researcher's depth to the topic of who really invented both the game and its official history, as well as when, how--and perhaps, most importantly because most often overlooked--why.

Baseball had many antecedents in American, British, and even earlier history (George Washington is recorded as playing a game
Feb 24, 2014 Brent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baseball
To quote Oscar Wilde, the truth is rarely pure and never simple.

This book highlights that the birth of America's pastime can't be viewed in such simple and monotonic terms. As much as we would like to believe that the game was magically ordained in a single event by Civil War hero Abner Doubleday, a more evolutionary approach is called for. As much as we would like to find a solely American origin in Alexander Cartwright--the Knikcerbocker who supposedly, with divine insight, laid down 90-feet b
George Schlukbier
Smart, witty and self-mocking, Baseball in the Garden of Eden is a charming narrative about the preposterous manipulation by Spalding and the Mills Commission to try and fix the founding of Base Ball as an American Invention. Original historical research debunks the myth that Abner Doubleday invented the game and through clever examination of primary materials explains the world of the 1850's. "Our Game" also John's blog for MLB and the title of a new eBook, is a great tribute to the wonderful ...more
Jun 02, 2015 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thorn is MLB's official historian. He is quite the historian. Here he details the (very) early history of baseball and tries to identify where and when it began. Thorn believes it began in England in the 1700s. He then traces the development of baseball in the United States from the early 1800s until about 1907, which is when a commission organized by Al Spalding announced its findings that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Those findings, we know now, are wron ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The subject matter (the early origins of baseball) was very interesting to me as a baseball fan, but the writing didn't always interest me. Some fascinating facts of which I wasn't aware (for example, the idea of the DH was first proposed in the 1800s), some things that were somewhat tedious (the emphasis on the religious cult). It didn't always flow linearly, and the author kept returning (more than was necessary) to the Commission appointed to determine baseball's origins. Yes, I get it that A ...more
Thorn's book took some effort getting into, but provided significant payoff. He tackles the nebulous early history of baseball in the United States, with particular attention to laying to rest inaccurate popular assumptions about this history and to analyzing the myth-making tendency that set in very early on in the game's development. Thorn's cast of characters is huge, and perhaps he could have done a better job of helping us keep them all straight, but I must admit that isn't a task I envy hi ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thorn, John. BASEBALL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, OR, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE EARLY GAME. (2011). ****. You’d have to be a rabid fan of baseball to carefully read this history, but as a casual fan, I stll got a lot from Thorn’s lively stories. It seems, however, that Americans wanted this game to be our own invention – even though Egyptian paintings show a game of baseball (or something very like it) being played about 1,500 B.C.E. Our zeal to differentiate baseball from various English games cause ...more
I thought, from the title, that the book would be about the earliest origins of baseball, and at first it was, but then it became a general history of baseball in the 19th Century, and it continued well into the 20th Century. The information about the origins of the game was very interesting, especially the different refinements to the rules that shaped the game that we know today. But there were some significant tangents. Too much information about Albert Spalding and his spiritual beliefs. (He ...more
Baseball historian Thorn successfully shreds claims for the invention of baseball by either Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright. He favours an amalgam approach (three guys are given credit) as he teases apart the many bare threads of evidence. Thorn isn't above going off on tangents. One is his claim that gambling was crucially important in the development of baseball from game to sport but he appears to lose interest in this idea and drops it before fully threshing it out. Another is his pr ...more
James Klagge
Dec 14, 2011 James Klagge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with the origin of humanity itself, there is a creation versus evolution debate about baseball origins. Baseball creationists had patriotic motivations to avoid what they took to be demeaning British ancestry for "base ball". (Just like human creationists try to avoid what they take to be a demeaning primate ancestry for us.) The real story turns out to be complicated and uninspiring. Baseball's history is also mixed up with the Theosophical Society, which was a 19th Century version of what w ...more
Brian Taylor
Jun 07, 2016 Brian Taylor rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a lifelong baseball lover. From an early age I've consumed everything about baseball history that I could get my hands on. So it was with great expectation that I started to read this account by the widely-acclaimed "historian of baseball." I hoped to broaden and deepen my knowledge about the origins of baseball. After slogging through several chapters of the book, I was able to gain some new understanding; however, the writing was simply too boring and lacking in any creativity or style for ...more
Aug 03, 2011 Mandy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you love baseball as much as I do, you’ll find Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game interesting.

The book traces the origins of the game, starting with the baseball clubs in New York in the 1830′s, all the way up to the 1930′s and the first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson, just for the record.)

John Thorn clearly spent a great deal of time going through old records and accounts of th
Jul 30, 2012 Dustin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As much as we might like to believe in the legend of Abner Doubleday inventing the game of baseball, Thorn shows that it is just not plausible. He lays out the long history of stick-and-ball games and the eventual evolution into what we no know as Baseball. Fascinating history of the early game and details of its earliest organizations and rules. Intriguing biographical profiles of A.G. Spalding and other major sports figures of the era. Spalding's links to the Theosophical Society being of most ...more
Dec 28, 2014 Randal rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
Shelves: nonfiction, baseball
Dire. Bloody awful. I tried and tried but can't finish this one.
It's a detailed, slow-moving discussion about the very early days of baseball, light on anecdote, humor, color, any sense of wonder or discovery and fun. Possibly not the worst baseball book I've ever read (Tim McCarver's Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans: Understanding and Interpreting the Game So You Can Watch It Like a Pro, in case you're keeping score at home), but it's right up there.
Jamie Bradway
Apr 28, 2011 Jamie Bradway rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baseball
While there is a great deal of historical data, a lot of research, this history lacks a bit of a story. There are characters, and I wish I could have gotten more information on some of them, but the one that receives the most attention, Spalding, doesn't have the depth to develop a narrative around. Or rather, if he does, it's not done well by Thorn this time.

The Secret History packs in so much detail that I'm fairly satisfied with what I've learned and that I've been given a fuller picture of b
Sep 01, 2013 B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, westend
This book seems to circle around but never quite square the circle with regards to Spalding, Doubleday, and the Theosophic Society.

Oddly the book is much better about two-thirds of the way in when it just gives a simple history of 19th century major league ball. It really was a different world in the past and those differences are interesting.

The unanswered questions could make for an interesting book but repeating them does not.
Steven Peterson
Apr 04, 2011 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are a baseball fan and interested in the sport's history, this book would be a fun read. It is written in a rather non-linear fashion which can frustrate me, but--nonetheless--I enjoyed this. Do you believe that Abner Doubleday had anything to do with the origin of baseball? Prepare to be disappointed!

This book goes back well before Doubleday and other purported founders to show where the game evolved from.

All sorts of historical byways are explored.

A lot of fun. . . .
Jan 29, 2014 Telesilla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not only does John Thorn write about the early game of baseball, he also tells the story of how baseball set about creating its own Origin Myth. Thorn's the official HoF historian and was a consultant for Ken Burn's PBS series Baseball. Since the series aired, there's been a lot more information uncovered about the early game; the subtitle of this could have been "All the things we got wrong in the first episode of Baseball."
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