The Devil's Snake Curve
An essay by Josh Ostergaard
April 15, 2014 • 5.5 x 8.25 • 256 pages • 978-1-56689-345-9
A humorous, historical, and hirsute miscellany that’s the baseball book Howard Zinn would have written, if he hated the Yankees.
The Devil’s Snake Curve offers an alternative American history, in which colonialism, jingoism, capitalism, and faith are represented by baseball. Personal and political, it twines Japanese internment camps with the Yankees; Walmart with the Kansas City Royals; and facial hair patterns with militarism, Guantanamo, and the modern security state. An essay, a miscellany, and a passionate unsettling of Josh Ostergaard’s relationship with our national pastime, it allows for both the clover of a childhood outfield and the persistence of the game’s service to those in power. America and baseball are both hard to love or leave in this, by turns coruscating and heartfelt, debut.
About the Author
Josh Ostergaard holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has been an urban anthropologist at the Field Museum and now works at Graywolf Press.
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“The Devil’s Snake Curve will receive a particularly warm welcome from those who love the game but resist easy analogies comparing its slow, idiosyncratic progress to the slow idiosyncratic progress of the American experiment. Its young author, Josh Ostergaard, emerges from an ironic generation that tends to regard hero worship as faintly ridiculous, meaning that individual legends from any given era are less interesting to him than whatever social, cultural, or political forces might have combined to prop those legends up.” —New York Times
“Expansive and inventive. . . . A challenging reconsideration of a game that used to be called the national pastime.” —Star Tribune
“Highly entertaining and always enlightening. . . . [Ostergaard] moves easily from the relationship between baseball and political thinking shared during the early 1960s by fierce enemies Fidel Castro and Allen Dulles, to the ways baseball managers and owners attempted to enforce rules about hair length and mustaches at the same time that those rules were being rejected in American culture in general.” —Publishers Weekly
“Smart, funny and wholly unique. Josh Ostergaard creates a collage of baseball’s complications, tracing its shimmering lore and harsh realities. He gives us a game that is never static, never simple, but is worth knowing. In his hands, the familiar feels new again.” —Lucas W. Mann, author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere
“I thought I wasn’t interested in baseball until I read this book. It’s like a box of eclectic baseball cards about our country and our culture—curious, compelling, and disturbing in turn.” —Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man’s Land
“In a sports publishing season with few books about the scandal side of, say, NFL violence, NCAA hypocrisy, or drug use, there is a little book with a social conscience. Josh Ostergaard (who now works for Graywolf Press) has written The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes from Left Field, a book of essays and ‘miscellany.’” —Publishers Weekly
“Readers who, like the author, see baseball as a metaphor for, well, nearly everything, and who deem the Yankees as not only representative of the misdistribution of wealth in America but also connected to such events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War will love this book. Those who merely enjoy baseball as baseball, even those who root for his despised Yankees, may still find plenty to like in Ostergaard’s oddball take on the sport.” —Booklist
“One of the most fascinating books ever written about baseball.” —Cultural Weekly
“This graceful, quietly humorous and thought-provoking collection of anecdotes probes deeply into the meaning behind each parcel of information to capture what baseball was in the days before what baseball is now.” —MinnPost
“A former urban anthropologist, Ostergaard loves baseball and the stories that ‘lie on the game’s outer edges,’ the ‘murmurs between innings’ where baseball intersects with—well, just about everything in American life.” —Pioneer Press
“Funny, off the beaten path, and fun to read, The Devil’s Snake Curve is the perfect book for anyone who likes their baseball a little bit different, enjoys irreverent humor, or really hate the Yankees.” —Boston Red Thoughts
“One of baseball’s charms for writers is as a broad canvas for the expression of personal piques, politics, and flights of imagination. Following the example of The Empire Strikes Out by Robert Elias, lefty Chicago urban anthropologist Josh Ostergaard proffers a revisionist historical commentary on baseball in The Devil’s Snake Curve.” —Daily Beast
“Ostergaard is an incisive, intelligent writer. . . . At best, the book is a brilliant exercise in sequence and transition, with dozens of short sections carefully laid out in order to maximize inference and suggestion.” —The Corresponder
“The Devil’s Snake Curve is a unique baseball book, one that cleverly explores the history of the sport through cultural and political lenses.” —Largehearted Boy
“This book is like a day at the ballpark. Histories are the murmurs between innings. They are the pitches that make up a game. They careen off the wall and roll into dark corners. The game is played in fragments. Meanings accrue. Memories interrupt history.” —Joy of Sox
“Even in the lengthy tradition of baseball literature, The Devil’s Snake Curve defies easy comparison. . . . There are a few real discoveries for even a devoted baseball history dweeb in The Devil’s Snake Curve.” —The Classical
“This anecdotal history of baseball is a gem. Musings—both personal and historical—are intertwined with snippets of Americana, dashes of history, and cultural observations by an urban anthropologist. Flip through the book and randomly read about pissing in the Wrigley Field troughs, Allan Dulles’ CIA coups, bubble gum and tobacco rituals, the politics of facial hair, and both religious and ideological attempts to co-opt sport. Or better yet, read it again it the way the author intended to see the connections between Baseball and Machines, Militarism, the Animal World, Nationalism and the Corporatocracy.” —Annie Bloom Books
“The Devil’s Snake Curve . . . is unique, insightful, humorous and worth reading. It is a kind of radical and high subjective view of the national pastime, a kind of ‘Fargo’ of baseball books.” —Epoch Times
“Ostergaard seamlessly meshes baseball with pop culture and politics, both in the U.S. and around the world.” —Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf
“This collection of news reports, anecdotes, statistics and personal reminiscences turns an eclectic history of baseball into a backdrop for American political history.” —Shelf Awareness
“Out of the many fragments of baseball history collected in The Devil’s Snake Curve, Josh Ostergaard has assembled a unique take on baseball’s complicated symbolism. Full of mustaches, advertisements, and more than a few reasons to hate the Yankees, it’s a story about how baseball became intertwined with our ideas about things like patriotism, civility, and masculinity. Ostergaard’s interpretation of baseball’s history is one I was increasingly drawn into, and while he doesn’t pretend to be objective, he leaves room for readers to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions. It is as thought provoking as it is entertaining.” —Jacob Harksen, Elliot Bay Books
“An insightful, humorous social commentary on our nation. Drawing connections between the sport and capitalism, faith, and colonialism (just to name a few), Ostergaard draws the reader into his passionate perspective, and leaves us reflecting on the state of our country.” —City Pages
“Ostergaard aligns baseball and history so that wonderful coincidences arise.” —Fiction Advocate
“[The Devil’s Snake Curve] scorches baseball’s corporate (i.e., greedy) side and its penchant for wrapping itself in the flag, which includes American-style imperialism, the kind that blithely, almost unconsciously, styles baseball as redemptive force, good for the world’s untamed and unwashed.” —NINE