Excerpt from Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Joe DiMaggio

The Hero's Life

by Richard Ben Cramer

Joe DiMaggio
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2000, 560 pages
    Sep 2001, 560 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

They all lived within ten tight blocks. Joe knew their little brothers, who tagged along and tried to play. He knew their sisters, who played rotation basketball at the hoop past left center field. (Well, he knew the sisters by sight: Joe never said five words in a row to anybody's sister.) He knew all their houses, and who slept where. He knew their mothers, and where they shopped. He knew what their fathers fished.

On the left, past third base, was the boys' bathroom. Joe spent a lot of time in there, playing cards. Joe was good at cards. But that was like baseball: he wasn't just playing. Joe and Niggy Marino used to box the cards -- fix the deck -- or they'd play partners, and kick each other to signal for discards: five kicks meant to throw the five, two for the deuce, etc. By the time they finished, their legs were black-and-blue. But they went home with a few extra nickels -- money from the patsies. Poor Frank Venezia! He played all the time and never caught on they were cheating him. But that was Frank. He just thought he was lousy at cards.

Past the outfield, past the basketball and tennis courts and the open swimming pool, Columbus Avenue cut the playground off at an angle. Nothing was exactly square in North Beach -- a neighborhood of odd intersections and acute hillside corners -- because Columbus sliced through the street grid diagonally, from the office buildings downtown, north and west to Fisherman's Wharf. Columbus was the hub for Italian San Francisco, and the boys' window on the ways of the world. On Columbus, at the corner of the playground, they'd catch the F-car downtown -- Stockton Street, all the way to Market. After school, kids rode two for a nickel.

A block and a half up Columbus lay the expanse of Washington Square, the gran piazza, like a carpet of green spread in front of the great Sts. Peter and Paul's Church. The Italian Cathedral of the West was at that time only five years old -- Joe had seen the whole thing built. But its massive twin spires, the solemn gleam of the grand marble altar, even the bright modern classrooms for the School of Americanization, were designed to bear witness eternally to proud Italianità and the achievement of his parents' generation. On the grass in front of the church, the men of the community gathered every afternoon for coffee (maybe a little wine) and argument -- though Joe's dad seldom made an appearance. Giuseppe DiMaggio wasn't much for talk.

Near the church on Columbus stood the other institutions of the grown-up world: there was the Valente-Marini Funeral Home (you could pass from your christening at Sts. Peter and Paul's to a coffin -- hopefully not too fast, but all within a couple of blocks). Up the street, there was the community hall, Casa Fugazi, named for Commendatóre John F. Fugazi, a banker and one of the early Italian-American prominenti. At Columbus and Stockton stood the Bank of America, whose founder, A. P. Giannini, was most prominent of all prominenti. On Columbus, too, there was the library -- but no one Joe knew went to the library. The boys were more interested in other cultural sites on Columbus, like LaRocca's Corner, where the wiseguys played cards all day over cups of LaRocca's homemade wine. (Prohibition was an approximate science in North Beach, and Vince LaRocca, Ciccio's uncle, was "well connected.") And nearby were the nightclubs, the Lido Cafe and Bimbo's 365 Club, with their showgirls -- tall gorgeous girls, who'd come from all over...though not from North Beach. No Italian family had showgirls.

From Columbus came food for the neighborhood tables -- from Molinari's big new deli, and Caligari's bakery on Green, just off the Avenue. On Columbus at Green was the Buon Gusto Market, and off Columbus, on Powell, there was Celli's, where they made the best pasta and let you buy on credit. In Joe's crowd, there were months when everybody ate on credit -- say, before crab season began. Clothes, same way: without credit, you'd wear your big brothers' stuff forever. Every family ran a tab at Tragone's, on Columbus, for clothes and shoes. You could get the shoes cheaper at Gallenkamp's, on Kearny Street -- but that was all the way downtown. (And it was some kind of Kraut chain, strictly cash-and-carry.)

Copyright © 2000 by Richard Ben Cramer

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.