Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Review: Searching for Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt

I have read many sports biographies, "auto"biographies where the writing is undoubtedly done by a ghost writer, legit autobiographies and other non-fiction accounts of sports. I've read Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams, Jim Bouton's memoir Ball Four, H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights and more recent releases like :07 Seconds or Less and Fantasyland.

Searching for Bobby Orr is in a league of its own.

Stephen Brunt, a regular columnist for the Globe and Mail, truly does an excellent job detailing the life of Bobby Orr, a notoriously uncooperative interview subject. Because he was denied personal access, Brunt relies on tons of background research in magazines, newspapers, and interviews of the people around him. Although he knows his subject very well, Brunt never gets too close, too admiring of Orr, providing the reader with a fairly objective account of what Bobby Orr is like.

More impressively, Brunt even makes notorious lawyer-cum-fraud artist Alan Eagleson seem sympathetic. This is no easy task, especially for an audience of hockey fans who are more likely to sympathize with their on-ice heroes who were taken gross advantage of by Mr. Eagleson. However, Brunt is able to present both sides of the argument fairly, even scoring some fair points on behalf of Eagleson.

This is one of Brunt's strengths: he really humanizes the story. He has an empathetic writing style that humanizes the subject matter. For my part, I'd always heard of Bobby Orr, but certainly never seen him play. I never understood how important he was to the sport of hockey on or off the ice. I'd always grown up idolizing Paul Coffey's offensive-defensive style, and I now appreciate that Orr is Coffey's stylistic ancestor.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who's got even a passing interest in hockey. It's a great read.

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