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The Great American Novel

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  2,381 ratings  ·  217 reviews
Paperback, 448 pages
Published August 1st 2002 by Rowohlt Tb. (first published 1973)
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Alan Gerstle In case you happen to read this a year later, I'd say that if you don't understand baseball, it would virtually be impossible to comprehend the subtle…moreIn case you happen to read this a year later, I'd say that if you don't understand baseball, it would virtually be impossible to comprehend the subtle aspects of the book or the sport because baseball is like chess. If you learn the basic moves of chess--what each piece can do--you would still not understand it because of the huge complexities of the game. The game of baseball is extremely complex when it comes to strategy, so without a knowledge of the complexity, it would be hard to follow the subtle action.(less)

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Read By RodKelly
No no no no no.

This is a terrible novel. There is a sickening amount of racism and misogyny, and I understand the satirical and parodic nature of the story, but this crossed too many lines for me. The brilliant prologue could've been published as a novella; but unfortunately it precedes a novel that tries so hard to be crudely funny that Roth starts competing with himself to see how racist he can get away with being. Hard pass. Ugh.
Mattia Ravasi
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Video review:
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2017

A satirical take on the whole concept of the GAN that may very well be the big White Whale itself. An hilarious comic novel filled with unforgettable characters and episodes, and an entertaining thriller too - not to mention the ways it plays with American, and global, literary history.
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Raucous and often extremely funny, The Great American Novel is the story of the forgotten baseball team The Ruppert Mundys as told by former sportswriter and alliteration addict Mr Word Smith - as unreliable a narrator as you will ever encounter and yet his bizarre tale of the conspiracy that destroyed baseball's Patriot League is oddly persuasive. The Mundys are a team of the crippled and/or deluded: their players include the one-legged, the one-armed and, later, a vindictive midget.
Roth does
Jon Sindell
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Well, of course, you could always entitle it "The Great American Novel." I haven't read other reviews, and I'll bet others have said this or something like this. Never mind. Won't delete.

But. My god, this is a hysterical novel. You've heard of the state of Major League Baseball during WWII, when so many able-bodied young ballplayers were at war that the standards for entry in MLB were lower than? Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder for the Browns? Joe Nuxhall, who appeared in a game at the age
carl  theaker
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fancy-fiction, sportz
A complete, humorous, skewering of Major League Baseball, and by association, the media, politics, even literature, and Americanism in general. This could only be done so completely by a person who does have a love for the old ballgame.

This is a 1973 work of fiction, about a 1943 Baseball team with its bizarre set of players, coaches, and owners. All the various jokes, paradoxes, exposures and sarcasm, still work today 2016!

Perhaps because of the title, it’s not well known as a ‘baseball boo
Joel Ortiz-Quintanilla
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i got arrested and i couldn't find a good book in jail to read, and then lo and behold i came across this. I always heard of p. roth, but i never read anything from him, so i read this book and thank you mr. roth for making my first two weeks in jail bearable. i knew i was in jail with tons of stupid people, myself included, but i never thought i would read something like this in jail. Wow, even in jail i discovered authors that i really enjoyed. I have since become a fan. Last week i went to th ...more
Dave Russell
Mar 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
This book was a godsend after the last Roth novel I read, The Professor of Desire. Whereas that book is overly earnest and self-indulgent The Great American Novel is just pure comic inventiveness. This is Roth's tribute to America: it's culture, language, and politics. The prologue in which the narrator ("Fella name a' Smith. First name a' Word.") meets Hemingway, the midget Bob Yamm's farewell speech, the game between the Rupert Mundys and the asylum inmates, the visit to the "Blue 'n Pink Dist ...more
Jim Leckband
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
"The Great American Novel" is not the Great American Novel. Oh, it takes its swings and occasionally hits a long one, but at the end of the game it is like a misplayed fungo. The metaphor-laden previous sentence illustrates the potential problem for a lot of readers. The novel is so soaked in baseball that it might be only baseball lovers or readers that can handle a lot of digressions.

Which is what Great American Novels do. They digress. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - endless river raftin
James Murphy
This is a reread but it's so far in my Pleistocene past that I don't remember much at all except that my sense today is I under-appreciated it. Time to try again.

I didn't remember any of it except a few character names, and then because they're outlandish. It's not one of Roth's more critically appreciated novels, perhaps. The attraction for me was that I was in the mood for a baseball novel. It satisfied that in all its spherical looniness, all its under-your-chin invective, which is really jus
Rod Ruff
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
My first Phillip Roth and it won't be my last. I was laughing out loud quite often for this one. Helps fill that gaping void left by a suspended baseball season... ...more
Brian Levinson
Jun 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
I have a lot of Jewish friends, and most of them are Philip Roth fans. Some of them are baseball fans. But none of them have read this book. Why? I don't know. I myself am only a half-Jewish baseball fan, but I still managed to enjoy it thoroughly. Maybe if my mother had been Jewish, I would've given it five out of five, but I thought Roth's ending was hurried and unsuitable, and his satire was a bit scattershot. Nevertheless, my mother is a nice woman. She's Catholic. If you're ever in Suffern, ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was almost discouraged enough by the prologue to not even bother with this book. In the end, I mostly just skimmed through the intro, focusing only on the brilliant part about Hemingway, and ignoring all of the pointless alliteration so that I could get to to the story. And boy, am I glad I stuck with it. I really enjoyed this book. I am big on dark humor, and this thing is chalk full of it. It is a masterful work.

The narrator regales us with the tale of a forgotten, eradicated baseball league
Scott Rhee
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's been years since I read this, but I recall loving every bit of it. I'm not even a huge baseball fan. (I actually deplore sports.) It's more than a baseball novel, though. It's a scathingly funny satire of the American psyche as told through the sport. ...more
Funny story about this book: a literal lifetime ago (1978ish, I'm thinking--I supposed I could dig up the postcard [what postcard? be patient, read on]) to confirm, but that doesn't seem like something I want to devote a Sunday hour to), when I was a graduate student in English at the University of Illinois, I taught, under the omnibus rubric of Literature and Experience (Engl 106--kinda scary how clearly I remember stuff from then when I often can't remember while walking upstairs why I needed ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
The starting line-up for the '43 Ruppert Mundys:
1. SS Frenchy Asterte- "Unlucky Asterte" couldn't speak English and had no country to call his own.
2. 2B Nickname Damur- A 92lb 14 year old boy who was more interested with getting himself a new name than his play on the field.
3. 1B John Baal- Grandson of "Base," son of "Spit," both legendary (and banned for life) Patriot Leaguers. John was a power hitter...but only if he was drunk.
4. C Hothead Ptah- Hothead had a wooden leg and liked to argue.
5. L
Feb 10, 2016 added it
Shelves: abandoned
Afraid I'm going to have to throw in the towel on this one. I love the premise--a third baseball league wiped from history via conspiracy which remains in the memory of only one crotchety and wholly unreliable ex-sports writer. Parts of it are great--funny, sometimes straight up slapstick. And that prologue is a thing of genius, culminating in Smitty measuring up his epic against other GANs, which, combined with the endless references/allusions to Moby-Dick (so much as saying that a collection o ...more
Jul 10, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
An American novel...definitely. Great? No so much so.

The writing of this is typical 1970's humor. Think M*A*S*H (yes, I know the book was published in '68, but the movie was released in '70, which helped popularize the book series) or the works of Kurt Vonnegut. It's a sort of intelligentsia humor. Sophisticated. Dry. Not a laugh-out-loud type of humor. And for me, this didn't work.

I have to be up-front. I'm not a huge baseball fan. I enjoy it a little bit more, now as I'm older and can look for
Eh. A one note joke, that introduces (at the end) a second note of farce. An early scene with Hemingway is outstanding, but even a baseball fan (such as me) got bored.
Nov 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
In my current chronological reading of Roth this is my least favorite of his novels. It starts with a mostly offensive, mostly unnecessary prologue that reads as if written by his satire of Agnew from Our Gang but with the most sexist stuff from Portnoy included as though Roth were satirizing himself already. The meat of the novel in between the bookends of prologue and epilogue is decent enough, lampooning American sports obsessions, baseball in general, great American novels, and the House Una ...more
Isabel Antelo
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Roth turns himself into Word Smith writing from a house of elderly people about the fallen of a baseball league nobody remembers anymore and it is just amazing. Full of black humor, irony and witt, the anthitesis of the great american novel but truly great by itself.
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
I give up. You really need to like baseball for this one.
Evyn Charles
Mar 23, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is insane and not easy to stick with. It follows a fictitious baseball team in a fictitious baseball league during WW2. The characters, narrator, and plot twists are unbelievable, comedic, sarcastic. It is a kind of commentary on society at that time.
Philip Roth is an amazing writer and I think he had to get things out of his system before reaching the consistent plateau he has been on. After reading this, The Breast and his Nixon book (Our Gang), I decided to skip a lot of his early/m
About 30 years ago I read Roth – as we all did, Portnoy's Complaint – and middle aged New York Jewishness really didn't resonate with an adolescent in small town New Zealand. A friend recommended recently that I try this, and it's pretty good – but I suspect that it works for me because I now grapple with the history, organisation and politics of sports organisations. It's a good satire of Organised Baseball, of Cold War politics, of McCarthyism – but I'm afraid that it still doesn't resonate in ...more
David Anderson
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hilarous. Almost as much fun as Roth's satiric spoof of Richard Nixon, Our Gang. Titled The Great American Novel because it spoofs what are historically the two "Great American Pastimes": baseball and anti-communism. Don't need to know that much about baseball to enjoy that aspect (personally can't stand the game but still had a blast with the exploits of the fictional Patriot League and it's "homeless" team, the Ruppert Mundy's) but it would help to know something of McCarthyism and the House U ...more
Dennis Weeks
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Great American Novel is not a novel in the sense that The Great Gatsby is a novel. It is an imagined epic baseball satire that lies somewhere between Tristram Shandy and the bible - but just the funny parts. Consequently I find that it is best savored over many weeks - a few dozen pages at a time. Frankly, it is so perverse in its sexist, racist absolutely non PC perspective that the shock value improves in small portions - again, somewhat like the bible. This is my second reading and I am a ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, america, sports
This is easily the tamest Philip Roth book I've read, both in terms of explicit sexual fantasies and in terms of writing style. The 50-page "preface" did leave me with a little bit of Roth fatigue, but for the book is a surprisingly straightforward, by his standards, satirical novel about a baseball team during World War II. ...more
Apr 25, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I expected a Philip Roth novel about baseball to be more to my liking, but this novel is Roth trying to write a funny man's novel. I don't think it suits him very well. Not funny and not very precise with its post-war commentary on American culture. ...more
Karen Willis
Apr 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I guess I'm getting better about giving up on books. Because I just gave up on another one - almost 100 pages in. And it's a big book. I have never read anything by Roth and at this point may never try to again!~ I just don't get it... ...more
Jun 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball
It must have been "time of life" for me but I really enjoyed this story of baseball. For me it was hilarious ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, baseball
I almost made it. But I just couldn't manage to slog through the last 100 pages of this book. Pointless, sophomoric, and, well, boring.

The first chapter is definitely worth reading though.
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Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and in ...more

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“But they don't deserve to be winning!"
"And who does in this world, Roland? Only the gifted and the beautiful and the brave? What about the rest of us, Champ? What about the wretched, for example? What about the weak and the lowly and the desperate and the fearful and the deprived, to name but a few who come to mind? What about losers? What about failures? What about the ordinary fucking outcasts of this world - who happen to comprise ninety percent of the human race! Don't they have dreams, Agni? Don't they have hopes? Just who told you clean-cut bastards own the world anyway? Who put you clean-cut bastards in charge, that's what I'd like to know! Oh, let me tell you something. All-American Adonis : you fair-haired sons of bitches have had your day. It's all over, Agni. We're not playing according to your clean-cut rules anymore - we're playing according to our own! The Revolution has begun! Henceforth the Mundys are the master race! Long live Glorious Mundy!”
“Now obviously, in peacetime a one-legged catcher, like a one-armed outfielder (such as the Mundys had roaming right), would have been at the most a curiosity somewhere down in the dingiest town in the minors - precisely where Hot had played during the many years that the nations of the world lived in harmony. But it is one of life's grisly ironies that what is catastrophe for most of mankind, invariably works to the advantage of a few who live on the fringes of the human community. On the other hand, it is a grisly irony to live on the fringes of the human community.” 6 likes
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