The best books about baseball’s historic influence on American society

Why am I passionate about this?

Typically, we follow sports only on the playing field. I share that interest but I’ve become fascinated by sports off the field, and how they influence and reflect American society. After my fanatical baseball-playing childhood, I pursued an academic career, teaching and writing books and essays on politics and history, and wondering why it wasn’t more rewarding. Then I rediscovered sports, and returned again to my childhood passion of baseball. I began teaching a popular baseball course as a mirror on American culture. And I began writing about baseball and society, recently completing my sixth baseball book. The books recommended here will help readers to see baseball with new eyes. 


I wrote...

Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles over Workers' Rights and American Empire

By Robert Elias, Peter Dreier,

Book cover of Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles over Workers' Rights and American Empire

What is my book about?

A history of the baseball reformers and revolutionaries who challenged their sport and society—and helped change America. The book reveals a little-known history of rebellion among professional ballplayers who were inspired by the country’s dissenters and progressive movements, acting against abuses within their profession and their country.

It profiles the courageous players who demanded better working conditions, battled corporate power, and challenged America’s unjust wars, imperialism, and foreign policies, resisting the brash patriotism often linked with the “national pastime.” For over 100 years, baseball activists have challenged the status quo, contributing to the kind of dissent that creates a more humane society. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between

Robert Elias Why did I love this book?

Off the playing field, baseball has both influenced and helped shape American society.

I loved this book because it told the neglected story of how a sports team can profoundly affect its surrounding community. Here is the insider tale of the move by the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in the 1950s, the politics that helped shape that move, and the consequences for these two cities.

In Brooklyn, a fanatical fan base was betrayed and in Los Angeles a Mexican-American community was rudely displaced for the new ballpark. It’s a compelling story of winners and losers.

By Eric Nusbaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stealing Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A story about baseball, family, the American Dream, and the fight to turn Los Angeles into a big league city.

Dodger Stadium is an American icon. But the story of how it came to be goes far beyond baseball. The hills that cradle the stadium were once home to three vibrant Mexican American communities. In the early 1950s, those communities were condemned to make way for a utopian public housing project. Then, in a remarkable turn, public housing in the city was defeated amidst a Red Scare conspiracy.

Instead of getting their homes back, the remaining residents saw the city…


Book cover of Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy

Robert Elias Why did I love this book?

Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed that without the breaking of the color line in baseball in the late 1940s, his work for civil rights in the 1960s would have been infinitely more difficult.

This book tells the story not only of Jackie Robinson breaking that barrier to integrate baseball in 1947, but its profound consequences for both white and black baseball and for the Negro Leagues and the black community.

This breakthrough, seven years before the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, emerged not merely from Robinson and his sponsor, Branch Rickey, but from a several-decades long social movement for baseball integration, and it began the process of breaking down racist barriers in U.S. society—a notable example of how sports can promote social progress.

By Jules Tygiel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Baseball's Great Experiment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this gripping account of one of the most important steps in the history of American desegregation, Jules Tygiel tells the story of Jackie Robinson's crossing of baseball's color line. Examining the social and historical context of Robinson's introduction into white organized baseball, both on and off the field, Tygiel also tells the often neglected stories of other African-American players-such as Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron-who
helped transform our national pastime into an integrated game. Drawing on dozens of interviews with players and front office executives, contemporary newspaper accounts, and personal papers, Tygiel provides the most…


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

Robert Elias Why did I love this book?

There’s a neglected history of baseball’s relationship with U.S. foreign and military policy, for better or worse. Prior to World War II, the sport was used as a form of baseball diplomacy between two baseball-loving nations: the U.S. and Japan, to hopefully forestall war. It helped but not enough. 

Amidst the diplomacy was something more surreptitious. On the frequent U.S. baseball tours of Japan in the 1930s, a marginal ballplayer who happened to speak Japanese secretly filmed Tokyo and other cities for the OSS. Moe Berg was an American spy who used baseball as his cover and whose films facilitated the U.S. counterattack after Pearl Harbor.

A remarkable polymath, Berg later spied for the CIA in Latin America. This is his fascinating story. 

By Nicholas Dawidoff,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Catcher Was a Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Now a major motion picture starring Paul Rudd

“A delightful book that recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of espionage. . . . . Relentlessly entertaining.”—The New York Times Book Review

Moe Berg is the only major-league baseball player whose baseball card is on display at the headquarters of the CIA. For Berg was much more than a third-string catcher who played on several major league teams between 1923 and 1939. Educated at Princeton and the Sorbonne, he as reputed to speak a dozen languages (although it was also said he couldn't hit in any…


Book cover of Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game

Robert Elias Why did I love this book?

Besides being intricately involved in the history of U.S. foreign policy, baseball has also pursued its own foreign policy, projecting the game beyond American borders but always controlling the sport wherever it’s played.

This book examines the colonization of baseball in the Caribbean and Latin America. After breaking the color barrier, black Americans began emerging in the sport. An amateur draft was added and then free agency, both driving up the cost of ballplayers until organized baseball realized the gold mine of inexpensive players available south of the border.

The Latin player influx has helped baseball diversity but it has caused a dramatic decline in U.S. black ballplayers. Meanwhile, baseball owners are making billions, partly through their firm control over Latin leagues and players. This book is a call to action against this exploitation. 

Book cover of Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original

Robert Elias Why did I love this book?

In 1970, former New York Yankees pitcher, Jim Bouton, published Ball Four, a blockbuster best-seller that blew the lid off the behind-the-scenes life of professional ballplayers.

Providing such details, routinely covered up by sportswriters, was regarded as heresy and Bouton was condemned and largely banned from the sport. Yet Bouton inaugurated a revolution in sports reporting, and he remained an activist for the rest of his life, well beyond his sport, speaking and acting on civil rights, America’s illegal wars, ballpark preservation, Olympic protest, tenant and community rights, and immigration.

I loved this inspiring story of a man who became more than a “jock” and who transcended his sport to make a positive contribution to his society.

By Mitchell Nathanson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bouton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Baseball Book of 2020 by Sports Collectors Digest
New York Times 2020 Summer Reading List

From the day he first stepped into the Yankee clubhouse, Jim Bouton (1939-2019) was the sports world's deceptive revolutionary. Underneath the crew cut and behind the all-American boy-next-door good looks lurked a maverick with a signature style. Whether it was his frank talk about player salaries and mistreatment by management, his passionate advocacy of progressive politics, or his efforts to convince the United States to boycott the 1968 Olympics, Bouton confronted the conservative sports world and compelled it to catch up with…


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Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

Book cover of Rip Current

Sharon Ward Author Of In Deep

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the underwater world, so as an adult, I learned to scuba dive. I took to it like a fish to water, and my husband and I spent the next several years traveling to tropical islands to experience the local dive conditions whenever possible. I loved learning how every island had a different culture and a different undersea environment. Since I love tropical islands, scuba diving, mysteries, and adventure stories, these books really hit my sweet spot.

Sharon's book list on mysteries set on a tropical island

What is my book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary. When a young internet influencer…

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

What is this book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.
Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary.
Soon after a young internet…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in baseball, Latin America, and Jackie Robinson?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about baseball, Latin America, and Jackie Robinson.

Baseball Explore 171 books about baseball
Latin America Explore 119 books about Latin America
Jackie Robinson Explore 19 books about Jackie Robinson