The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg
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The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  789 ratings  ·  70 reviews
The only Major League ballplayer whose baseball card is on display at the headquarters of the CIA, Moe Berg has the singular distinction of having both a 15-year career as a catcher for such teams as the New York Robins and the Chicago White Sox and that of a spy for the OSS during World War II. Here, Dawidoff provides "a careful and sympathetic biography" (Chicago Sun-Tim...more
Hardcover, 453 pages
Published May 30th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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Deborah Edwards
Baseball and spies. Two of my favorite subjects. I really wanted to like this book. Not only was Moe Berg a catcher for the Red Sox and one of the first Jewish players in baseball, but he also happened to do a little moonlighting in espionage on the side. It should have made for a riveting story, full of twists and turns, savory Cold war nuggets and revealing baseball lore. And in the hands of another author, perhaps it would have. But somehow, in the hands of Nicholas Davidoff, it reads like on...more
Michael
I have never read a book that was such a chore to finish.
I felt like making a flow chart to follow all the people and a map to keep track of all the places he went. I found it a very confusing book to read.

Many of the people quoted in the book say what a great story teller Moe Berg was, yet the story is told so poorly by the author. The people also say how secretive Berg was and that most of the time no one knew how he could afford to live let alone what he was doing from day to day and that ma...more
Simmoril
I can't honestly remember how I came across Moe Berg's name, but when I first heard about him, I was immediately intrigued. A Princeton graduate, a polyglot, a professional baseball player, and an American spy, Moe Berg seemed to have all the makings for an exciting biography.

Dawidoff's account of Moe Berg's life covers quite a bit of ground, detailing Moe Berg's baseball career, his work as a spy during WWII, and finally his decline in his later years after he was let go from the espionage busi...more
Mark Ruzomberka
There is a reason this book was $6.50 at a used book store. It should have been a magazine article. On the surface the idea of a book about a baseball player who also was a spy was very intriguing. However, Moe Berg was neither a great baseball player nor a great spy. Granted it was still a cool story but one that was so meticulously research and told that it was very boring. The problem with the story was the lack or real conflict. At no time was Berg ever really in trouble with no issues to ov...more
Walter
This book marries two of the most testosterone infused subjects in literature - sports and espionage. How could that not be great? It is the story of Moe Berg, a Jewish scholar, Princeton graduate, linguist, major league ball player and, during World War II, a spy for the allies. For the most part I really enjoyed this book. Dawidoff does a great job describing Berg, a marginal hitter but great fielder in the 1920s and 1930s world of Major League baseball. How he played for the Dodgers, the Whit...more
Quo
The title of this book sounds as if it could have been written by Mickey Spillane but it is in fact a well-crafted story of a little-known ballplayer, Morris "Moe" Berg, an exceedingly enigmatic figure who played baseball almost by default. But more than a story of a 3rd string, journeyman backstop, The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff is a deeply engaging psychological profile of a man personified by the adjective "crepuscular", as shadowy & mysterious as he was intellectually gifted,...more
Scott
After reading, it's hard to tell what kind of person Moe Berg was, which is probably the way he would have wanted you to think.
Mark
A meticulously researched biography about the third-string Boston Red Sox catcher whom the OSS assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg during World War II. Oddly enough, the book's first third, which chronicles Berg's major league baseball career, is more intriguing than its second third, which traces Berg's secret missions in Europe on the trail of the Nazi nuclear program: it's as if the author found it more fascinating that an eccentric intellectual could be a professional athlete than that...more
Alexandria Barilone
The Catcher was a spy: the secret life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff is a biography on the famous catcher Moe Berg. Throughout the book you start with the smart young Morris Berg, and learn about his amazing learning ability. As Moe grows up we learn about his passion for baseball and see him play for Princeton, The Red Soxs, Dodgers, and many other big league teams. As he grows he learns his real calling in baseball is to be a catcher, rather than the shortstop position he had previously mad...more
Malcolm Anderson
May 14, 2012 Malcolm Anderson is currently reading it
#4 This book is quite possibly a hundred billion times better than the Awakening, almost as good as the Catcher in the Rye, better than the Great Gatsby, better than the Crucible, and not quite as good as small portion that we read of the Things We Carried, just to put this book in perspective with the others we have read this year. In this book, there is a "dream" portrayed. Moe Berg loved playing baseball more than anything else in his world. It made him happy just to be around the game, even...more
Rick
Moe Berg was a fascinatingly enigmatic figure, an intellectual jock, a publicly private man, a journeyman baseball player of the late 20s and 30s, an OSS spy during the Second World War, a lawyer who never practiced law, a talented linguist whose most characteristic gesture was to put a raised index finger to his lips to signal silence, a curious man and born story-teller who routinely said nothing when it came to his comings, goings, doings, and personal life. He was a man whose talents opened...more
Neil Pierson
After his career ends, a major league baseball player becomes a spy for the U.S. government. If that isn't unusual enough, the baseball player/spy is extremely smart and extremely eccentric.

Moe Berg was the brainy son of a pharmacist. He was admitted to Princeton in 1925 and became a star baseball player there. He went on to play for the Dodgers, Red Sox, and White Sox while obtaining his law degree from Columbia.

He volunteered for government service in World War II and eventually joined the Off...more
Hannah Kirchner
Davidoff didn't consider the eccentric side of the Berg family far enough. They all seemed to have autistic/OCD tendencies, and I think it was a consideration worth examining.

At the end of the book, Davidoff wraps things up too briefly and neatly, too willing to pat Moe on the back for living an unusual life of his own choosing.

Yeah, the guy lived an "interesting" life, but it was largely an unexamined, deluded, lonely, and unhappy one, spent running from himself. How Davidoff deduces that Ber...more
Matt
If the purpose of a biography is to produce an honest, interesting account of a life, then this succeeds very well. For those hoping for a book primarily about baseball, or espionage, this may be disappointing, because first and foremost it's a book about Moe Berg.

From my perspective the book breaks down into three parts. The first part is his childhood and baseball, the second part is the OSS and WWII, and the third part is about the strange man he became when his strongest ties (baseball and...more
Larry Hostetler
This book portended to be ideal for me. A combination of my love of baseball, spycraft and biography, it neither disappointed nor wowed me. Moe Berg was not a name of which I was aware, since he was never a star. I don't even remember his baseball card (which is the only one on display at the CIA). I love a good character and Moe certainly qualifies as a character. Perhaps because so much of his life was inscrutable but could only be pieced together by conjecture, there was an unsatisfying natur...more
J.b. Likeric
When I first picked up this book, I thought it was gonna be a mystery novel. When I found it to be a biography about a baseball player I was not familiar with, I wanted to read it. I am a big baseball fan, and thought I knew about quite a few names of old. So I started reading.

The author wrote in a style that I thought was tough to read at first. But I did get use to it. He used many adjectives that I was not familiar with. I could have used a dictionary by my side as I read.

Moe Berg was a fasc...more
Adam Steinberg
I read this book about 8 years ago. I found it fascinating and extremely well-researched. The author did a good job keeping the material from being dry and it read like a novel. I like this trait and usually find it in some of the best history/biography books, comparable to Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin or Ben Macintyre.
Steve
The part about his life as a baseball player was good and the part about his life as a spy was good but the book was about 100 pages too long. I felt like the book's editor wanted to publish a 350 page book so he forced the author to write an extra two chapters of which absolutely nothing of note or interest happened.
Mike McClary
Sep 18, 2008 Mike McClary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: baseball fans, spy enthusiasts
I've been wanting to read this book for years and finally got it done. I thought the story was well crafted and the pacing was good too. My biggest problem with this book was that Nicholas Dawidoff seemed, at countless points in the narrative, more interested in showing off his vast vocabulary than telling the story of Moe Berg.

If the job of the writer is to be invisible, Dawidoff failed. It almost got to the point where I was wary of the author's use of another word that I'd never heard of. Ev...more
Ben
Apr 03, 2011 Ben rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ben by: Dad
Shelves: non-fiction
The story of Moe Berg, a man who was both a catcher in the Major Leagues and a member of the OSS during World War II. Dawidoff did a phenomenal job of researching Berg's life, talking to people from all the different periods of Berg's life. The book does suffer from a few flaws though. The biggest flaw is what made Berg an interesting person--no one knew what truly made him tick. Because he was so mysterious and so reserved, no one seemed to know the true Berg (if such a person existed). This me...more
Deanna
I love baseball. I love baseball books, movies and history. Moe Berg was a baseball player and a spy. He was also a weird off the wall character with high intelligence. He was a college graduate and a law school graduate during a time when most professional baseball players were the exact opposite. He was a unique real life character. So how could a book about him be boring. I would not have finished it except I wanted to know more about Berg. The author seemed to get bogged down in minutia. I g...more
Art
I loved the first half of this book. But once the baseball and espionage were finished, Moe Berg's life, the book and Dawidoff's speculations about what went wrong just dragged on far too long.
Alan
Moe Berg was a really hard-to-categorize character. He was or maybe not at times a mediocre baseball player, idiot savant, linguistic expert, hobby physicist, CIA spy, friend of the powerful, mentally ill, homeless, wealthy, poor, a ladies man, or recluse.

The book delved into all these possibilities but its biggest shortcoming was that it was a narrative without a unifying theme. If the writer had spent some time analyzing (or getting some expert analysis) on Moe the book would have been more th...more
Anthony Mackaronis
Very interesting read. Moe Berg was a fascinating and eccentric character.
Michael
This book was good although it read incredibly slow. It was really impressive to see how Berg could learn entire languages in a matter of weeks and it was very cool to learn about how baseball traveled to Japan. It was interesting to see how although Berg was incredibly smart he never wanted to do anything other than play baseball and do intelligence work for the military. It was odd how at times Berg could be a cowardly shut in and never leave somebody's house for several days and then the next...more
General Lee Gaye
Holy too much detail Batman. Entire passages of this book are dedicated to details that exist exclusively to show that the author knew them. It's almost on a "At 10:52 PST, Berg took a bite of his sandwich" level. This is a fairly interesting story - although the fact that a baseball player became a spy after retiring is not like HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD - but pretty sure excising 100 pages would have served it well. Next!

Scott
This was a good book. I didn't think I'd finish it, but I did. Moe Berg is a very smart guy who played pro baseball. He was a spy after that in WW2. He didn't get hired by the CIA, so he essentially became a moocher and leech off his friends. He was a different person who likely had a mental issue. This was a fairly interesting book, but I wouldn't recommend it to my average friend.
Travelin
The blurb says the book is sympathetic, but the last chapter makes Moe Berg sound like a bum. It's not clear if Mr. Dawidoff thinks that ball players otherwise do important work in society.

As a (life) concept, spying on vacation from professional sports is brilliant. To the extent that the story of Moe Berg and Heisenberg meeting in Switzerland is true, it's unbelievable.
Artemis18
As a somewhat distant relative of Moe, I was interested in this book to learn more about him and read what my family members had to say about his eccentric behavior. The book itself was a bit of a challenge to get through, so I would only recommend it to people who already have an interest in his story and would like to read about him in great depth.
james
This is an excellent biography of a most fascinating character, Morris "Moe" Berg who was a catcher for the White Sox, Senators, Red Sox AND a member of the World War II OSS, which disbanded but later reformed into the CIA (sans Mr Berg.) This book offers excellent insight into baseball in the 1920s and 1930s PLUS the world of espionage in the 1940s.
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