Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review: Paul Brown (Cantor)

For a while, for anybody interested in learning more about Paul Brown, your only option was Brown's autobiography. In the past couple months, though, two new biographies of the man were published. I'll get around to the other at some point, eventually, but the first of those I read was Paul Brown: The Man Who Invented Modern Football by George Cantor.

Confession: for somebody who reads a reasonable amount of history, I'm not much of a fan of biography as a genre. Biographies, as a general rule, tend to two extremes: first, a straight narrative of a person's life, which may work reasonably well, but doesn't provide for the sort of insight into a person that a biography needs to succeed. The opposite end of the spectrum, alas, is the biographer falls in love with his subject, to the point where every single thing the subject does is worth of reporting, even the humdrum and the dull (The Last Lion: Alone is perhaps the ultimate example of this). With these twin pratfalls, it's no surprise to me that biographies are frequently dull.

And, I'm sad to say that Cantor's Brown bio falls firmly into the first camp. The book is a competent, but not particularly detailed, timeline of Brown's coaching career. It provides approximately no insight into Brown as a person, his philosophy of coaching, or what spurred him to do what he did. Frankly, the most useful part of the book may be the list at the back of Brown's records at each stop in his coaching career. Worse, for a nonfiction book, it provides absolutely no sources. Did Cantor make up everything in the book up? I don't think so, but I really don't know. I have no idea if Cantor, a veteran sportswriter, wrote this entire book from memory, consulted his personal notebooks, perused newspaper archives, interviewed a lot of people, read other books, or what. I don't know if he read Brown's autobiography, even. Paul Brown isn't particularly bad, but it's, well, bad in a dull way-not particularly interesting to read, nor insightful, nor informative. Hopefully Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach will be better.

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