The Natural

ISBN: 0374502005
ISBN 13: 9780374502003
By: Bernard Malamud Kevin Baker

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About this book

The classical novel (and basis for the acclaimed film) now in a new editionIntroduction by Kevin BakerThe Natural, Bernard Malamud’s first novel, published in 1952, is also the first—and some would say still the best—novel ever written about baseball. In it Malamud, usually appreciated for his unerring portrayals of postwar Jewish life, took on very different material—the story of a superbly gifted “natural” at play in the fields of the old daylight baseball era—and invested it with the hardscrabble poetry, at once grand and altogether believable, that runs through all his best work. Four decades later, Alfred Kazin’s comment still holds true: “Malamud has done something which—now that he has done it!—looks as if we have been waiting for it all our lives. He has really raised the whole passion and craziness and fanaticism of baseball as a popular spectacle to its ordained place in mythology.”

Reader's Thoughts


THE NATURAL. (1952). Bernard Malamud. *****.When I read this first novel by Malamud back in the late 1950s, I was blown away. On this second read, I was still mightily impressed. If you have not read any of Malamud’s works, this should be first on your list. It was immediately classified as a ‘baseball’ novel, and, indeed, it is set in the baseball world. The hero. a natural ball player, is cut short in his career by a woman he totally mis-read, and had to defer his entry into the sport for several years. His basic problem was that he had little understanding of the world and how it worked outside of a ballpark. He was particularly inept in his choice of women. To say that he was naïve would be an understatement. We do get to know our ball player very well, however, and soon learn that his simple beliefs in his forms of morality are etched on his soul. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of the story; it is artfully constructed. I did learn that the basic premise of the plot was based on a true incident involving a player from the Philadelphia Phillies in 1949. Highly recommended.

Dena Rash Guzman

I don't know if it's the best book written about baseball. It's the only book I've ever read about baseball, and it's a damn good book. You could hate baseball and love this book. You could hate books and love this book. I liked it.


The Natural by Bernard Malamud is one of those "literary sports novels". Hooray! I never read sports books (except for this time in my childhood where I read a bunch of Dan Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures), but the promise of this one having literary quality enticed me.The "natural" of the title is Roy Hobbs, a 34-year-old ballplayer who joins the (fictional) professional team the New York Knights. He's insanely talented, and the novel details his amazing season where he brings the Knights out of last place, along with meditations on love and guilt and "doing the right thing".The edition that I read had a quotation from Time's review of the book, that being "[a] preposterously readable story about life", and I wholeheartedly agree. I would find myself doing the "just one more page" nonsense over and over and over. One of the reasons I hate sports books is how boring the scenes in which the sport is being played is written (when J.K. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have no Quidditch scenes, I must say I was happy about it). It's way more fun to watch someone hit a ball than it is to read about it, but Malamud did a great job. I found the baseball scenes engaging and interesting.If the aforementioned literary thinking about our actions and love isn't enough, it might help to do some research on the Fisher King, the knight Perceval and the Holy Grail. There are (intentionally) strong parallels between the stories, and examining the story in this new way provides it with a new perspective and allows readers to admire Bernard Malamud's storytelling wholly differently. One of my complaints about the novel was that Roy Hobbs is a frustrating main character, but his character flaws are important in the understanding of the nature of a tragic hero.Overall a good book, both literarily and in its sportswriting, with some occasional flab in the form of flashbacks and inner monologues that are perhaps intended to help us understand Roy's personality but often left me confused about their inclusion (including a scene involving his mother, a cat and a bathtub toward the end of the novel).My rating: 3.5/5

Adam F.

For the most part the movie stayed true to the novel, but there are some subtle to major departures. The Glenn Close character is in the book, but doesn't have the same back story and connection to Roy that she did in the book. They do not end up together, though there is some hinting that they could end up together eventually (and they do appear to be having a baby together...).The biggest difference of course is that Roy decides to throw the game for The Judge, changes his mind before his final at bat of the game, but then strikes out anyway. While the character in the movie was mostly based on Ted Williams, the Roy Hobbs of the book seems to be based on a combination of Babe Ruth, Williams, and Shoeless Joe Jackson. They even throw in a "say it ain't so" line...They book is definitely more crude than the movie, and a bit more explicit than I would have expected from a movie written in the early '50s. Sadly, the removed the line about Hobbs being "the best goddamn hitter I ever saw", which is one of my favorites from the movie.


An interesting tale by a great writer. It's a first novel, much simpler than some of Malamud's other work, the dialogue a little awkward, but perhaps intentionally so. Do not read further if you don't like spoilers. It is hard to say anything about this novel without giving away pivotal events.****************************We first meet Roy Hobbs as a young prospect who is being taken by a down-on-his-luck scout to a tryout for a big league team. Fate intervenes, the scout dies, and Roy is very seriously wounded. His chances for a career in professional ball are completely derailed.We next see a much older Roy as he arrives in New York to join the Knights, a major league team that is down on its luck. Roy is a mysterious figure with a dark and passionate nature and almost unbelievable skill. There are intimations of magic, perhaps contained in the bat he uses (which Roy made himself as a young man), but nothing is explicit or amplified. Roy is a bundle of sensitivities and nerves and desires. There is nothing warm or sunny about him -- he is irritable and often antagonistic towards his teammates, the fans, and management. As he begins to contribute to the team, he resents his poor salary as he aspires to to court a woman with expensive tastes.Roy knows his age will limit the length of his career and his ability to cash in on his skill. He longs for the greatness he has always felt is in him, and wants to break every record so that he will be remembered as the greatest baseball player that ever lived. But in the end, hard living, age, and temptation catch up with Roy. His body broken, he realizes that the only way he can gain the riches he needs to win the woman of his dreams is to throw an important playoff game. Roy resolves to do so, but changes his mind as the game progresses. In his last at-bat, Roy tries to win the game, but fails. The end of the book beautifully evokes the Black Sox scandal and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson who was believed to have thrown (along with several of his teammates) the 1919 World Series. It's a strong finish to a book that occasionally meanders. Malamud seems to be suggesting that an athlete, being but a human being, can be simultaneously great and incredibly flawed. Cheating is eternal even while it takes different forms, whether it be athletes taking illegal substances to improve performance, or athletes intentionally underperforming.We are much more aware now of cheating as a part of the professional sports scene than when Malamud wrote this novel. Outstanding performance is now often greeted with suspicion as well as excitement. Roy brings to mind the many baseball greats that are currently under dark clouds, those formerly assumed "first ballot Hall-of-Famers" whose records are now tainted by substantial evidence concerning performance-enhancing drugs. Just as Roy did, those modern players tried to defy the ravages of age and biology to break records and achieve what others could not. Roy at least seems aware of what he has lost and his own responsibility in his tragedy, while many today's players seem not to have grappled with the meaning of their actions, whether it be their original transgressions or their vigourous denials after the fact.

Rod Kackley

This book blew me away. And I am going to try to stay away from any hint of spoilers, even thought this book was written in 1952. I am sure you know that the movie of the same name with Robert Redford was based on this book. What I didn't know was that the book would be so different in tone and substance from the movie. I will leave it there.I loved the style of the books, And as a lifelong baseball fan, I really appreciated Malamud's love of the game.Character development was very good.Whenever I read a book that was used for a movie, after seeing the movie, I always see the actors' faces and hear their voices, instead of creating my own images and sounds from the book.That didn't happen this time, at least not after the first few pages.The basic plot is quite similar. But not completely similar and the ending...well, you have to read it to find out how this one ends.

Scott Schneider

Movies are usually never as good as the book. The Natural is an exception. I saw the movie first and it is one of my favorites. Robert Redford is great (and great music by Randy Newman). It doesn't deviate from the book much. In the book though Hobbs is more of a doofus completely distracted by Memo until the end. It has a sad ending and I prefer the happier one in the movie. I can see why they changed it. You needed to believe again that Hobbs was going to make it and lead a happier life, something you can't see from the book ending. It was a good spring start-of-baseball-season read. The writing was great. Today would have been Malamud's 100th birthday, so happy birthday- your books are still a vital part of American literature.


I can't believe how little Malamud apparently knew baseball. I tried to understand this book three different ways - first, as a remarkable story set in the real world. NFW. Second, as a surreal fairy-tale/morality play, a la Coelho's The Alchemist. No, Malamud simply seems to believe what he wrote too much. I mean, there are obviously surreal elements, but Malamud didn't make the full commitment. It's just not that. Third, as a kid's book. Almost, until you get to the end. He really thought he had something powerful for adults.The book's just a mess. Malamud just doesn't understand baseball. Most of the book, at-bats go three pitches (leading me to think hey-maybe-it's-surreal. If I were to rewrite the book that's the direction I'd take. But I'd stick with it.) The titular Roy Hobbs has way too much control - fouling pitches where he wants them to go, consecutively.The plot emerges as organized as sputum, with plenty of metaphorical guns-hung-over-the-mantel* that get forgotten, and places where Roy does the right thing only to undo it. To his fault, Malamud used one historical incident where a player got shot by a crazy woman in a hotel room, but he uses it randomly, seemingly tacked onto the front of a story about something else. To his credit, Robert Redford took a novel called The Natural and used it randomly, making a good movie out of a couple of random pieces therein.People who like Jerry B. Jenkins' overt, confused moralizing might like this book. People who like those glurgy e-mails that seem to say something uplifting until you really think about it, might like this book. I don't.*can be spelled either mantel or mantle. I didn't know.


90% percent of the time the book is always superior to the movie. Not in this case. The screenplay is a better story than the book will ever be. Hollywood loves a happy ending and in the movie version they give us that. The Hero in his final at bat gives his team a National league Pennant with a lights out home run and all ends well.In the book Roy Hobbs is not a humble guy, nor a real hero to be admired, in fact the opposite. In real life we see men fail more times than they succeed on and off the field in professional sports today. Personally I don’t like a story that always ends with rainbows, puppy dogs and happily ever after but in this case since I love the movie so much I wish now I hadn’t picked up the book.The Hobbs from the movie was a much more likable guy and one you could sympathize with and root for but not in the book. My image of Roy Hobbs is now forever tainted and he falls into the category of the ordinary instead of the extraordinary. Hobbs story is one we read about almost daily and dismiss as just another dumb jock that only cares about his self interest instead of the team and the game. Skip the book watch the movie.


If you think this is the sweet story you saw in the movie with Robert Redford, complete with the overdramatic happy ending, you are in for a shock. In this dark tale, Roy Hobbs' baseball career is cut short by a crazed fan. Years later he has a second chance and easily shoots to the top of the majors with his skills. Along the way, Hobbs falls for the manager's niece, Memo, who is still in love with Hobbs' now deceased team rival, Bump Bailey; has a romantic fling with the past-her-prime fan Iris Lemon; and is enticed to throw the last game of the season by the owner of his team, the Judge, and the owner's friend, bookie Gus Sands. Hobbs has a huge chip on his shoulder, and the reader waits to see if he can overcome this to become the big hero of the story and redeem himself. Loaded with great characters and some events based in reality, the rich storytelling that showcases Hobbs thoughts makes this a great read. Not a long book in pages, just 248, there's much bubbling beneath the surface for the reader to mull over.

Steven Peterson

Those who have seen the movie but have not read the book will be surprised. Bernard Malamud paints a much darker picture of the odyssey of Roy Hobbs. The book takes the arc of one person's career--Roy Hobbs--and weds it to a couple grim episodes in baseball's history: Eddie Waitkus and the Black Sox. The Hobbs of the novel is wonderfully talented--but very human. In the movie, there is a prolonged slump after Hobbs links up with Paris Memo. In the novel, he sometimes simply has a slump. In the novel, he appears to have supernatural powers; in the novel, he is very talented but very human. The movie's uplifting ending works. The novel's darker ending also works. Each version of "The Natural" works well in its own right; the momentum in each moves toward the closing. Malamud writes well and creates characters that seem to have life to them. He also captures the very human--and vulnerable--traits of the characters. Even if you liked the movie and its view of Roy Hobbs, you will find the book gripping in its own, very different way.

Matthew Donoughe

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is a story of sports, survival, and love with wonderful imagery and well-developed characters. The main character, Roy Hobbs, is an aspiring professional baseball player with a powerful right arm and a hard-hitting baseball bat named Wonderboy. When Roy is only 19, he ventures to Chicago and sees a beautiful woman, Harriet Bird, on the train. When she lures Roy to her room later that night, Harriet shoots Roy after he claims he will be the best in the game. As the story progresses, Roy is seen trying to overcome the shot, even 15 years after the incident. He is taken aback by one of his teammates’ girlfriend, Memo, and tries to make a move despite her reserve. Roy becomes one of the best players in baseball and all of his teammates and fans adore him. His attempt to get his team to the World Series falls short, but he still is gracious for the second chance he was given.I would recommend this book to all sports fans, not just baseball fans. The great determination and survival instincts of Roy can be an example of for which all people hope to strive. Even though he was dealt an unlucky card, he still accomplished his dream of being “the best.” This novel also can be enjoyed by fans of love and romance. The side-story between Roy and Memo provides the perfect relief from the intense baseball games. Bernard Malamud tries to bring out the readers’ survival instincts, and in the process, gives the reader a warm and fuzzy feeling as he/she reads through Roy Hobbs’ accomplishments. Because of the tremendous connection between sports, survival, and love, I give this book a four out of five.


** spoiler alert ** I'll admit up front that part of my problem with The Natural is that the movie casts a long shadow. For those who encountered and fell in love with the book first, I can see why the movie would be absolutely infuriating. Major (and I mean MAJOR) differences in both Roy's character and the novel's plot--including a complete 180 on the climax--turn them into wholly different animals with little more than shared DNA: a talented kid, a tragic shooting, an old rookie, a struggling team, a girl named Memo. Reading the novel after my familiarity with the film felt like stepping into an alternate reality.But credit where credit is due, Malamud's world is as fully fleshed and full of iconography as anything in the film. It just also happens to be a darker, sadder place, full of disappointed heroes and missed opportunities. Roy Hobbes is a harder to character to like here than in the movies. He is both more Godlike in his prowess and more frail in his weaknesses, and thus somehow harder to connect to than a Sandy Koufax pitch. I wanted to like him, but I also wanted him to be better, and that's part of the genius of the story. As the novel progresses, we become like the boy Roy encounters on the final page, pleading "Say it ain't so, Roy," even as we see him stumble and fall to his knees. He may be a natural, Malamud tells us, but he is also fallible, and sometimes we, like Roy, wait too long to make up for past sins.Is this a Greek myth? A classic tragedy? A biblical allegory? It's all of those things, and it's the story of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and it's a crackling 30s noir, and its about America's fall from grace. It is whip-smart writing, full of the lingo of the baseball diamond and the chalk and dirt of legends. It's good. It really is. It's just . . .It's just that I love the movie, for all its cheese and schmaltz. Despite the facts that it goes for the syrupy sugar when the novel goes for the jugular. Despite the fact that it's clearly dumbing down the complexity of Malamud's novel. Despite the fact that it doesn't want to question our myth-making so much as codify it. Despite all that, I look back on the movie the same way that Redford and Levinson seem to be looking back on the golden age of baseball itself--with rose colored glasses that somehow seem able to forgive a lot of obvious flaws. It reminds me of being a kid, and of my brother, and of being filled with hope. And it reminds me of the present, and showing it to film students and seeing them jump when Harriet Bird fires that gun, and of getting a little misty-eyed when those lights get blown apart. So even if the novel came first, it feels a little like it's kicking at a piece of my personality that is good and optimistic and full of life. So I can respect the book, but at least for now, I can's say I love it. Icons and heroes fall--I know they do--and yet I don't have to love it when they do.Sorry, Judge, but I still believe in the goodness of man. I can respect the tragedy here. But I can't love it.

Aaron Curtiss

What is alluded to and then abandoned in the movie treatment of The Natural (oh Hollywood, why do you do what you do?) is instead embraced with insistence in the novel: this is a tragedy of the Greek variety played out against the unlikeliest of backdrops (backstops, even). The nods to Homer's Odyssey are constant but not linear or overly forced. The prose is at times, and especially for the first few pages, beautiful and surprisingly poetic. Each character is painted with broad swaths of color, sculpted even, Malamud somehow fleshing out real personality from just tiny pebbles of prose. At times the scenes are circus-like, rife with the world's freaks and outcasts, like something out of a Felllini film. The language and idiosyncratic behaviors are especially spot-on, from the Judge's highly eloquent diction to the baseball players' spit and dirt slang and superstitions. However, as it often is with the Greek tragedies, the struggle against the inevitable is what carries you through, hoping against hope, wishing for an ending you know won't come... unless you make Hollywood movies.Readers looking for more baseball than literature will at least recognize in The Natural a thinly veiled telling of the scandal of the White Sox, and Shoeless Joe Jackson in particular, whose talent was as remarkable as that of Roy Hobbs, and whose fall from grace was met with the famous line "say it ain't so, Joe." ("Say it ain't true, Roy" is the penultimate sentence of The Natural.) One could argue without much effort that this book is a literary treatment of the White Sox scandal, pared down to its most tragic core. If there are flaws in the telling of the story I believe they'd be a question of taste. Or if you are truly ignorant of the game of baseball, you might not recognize the implicit tensions and drama of a late-inning one-run ballgame and find yourself bored or confused. Fair enough. I happen to be a big fan of the sport of baseball and believe that - among all the major sports - it is the most prosaic and literary in its appeal, so this book was a win-win for me, and perfect reading when you're stuck in the doldrums between October and April.

Casey Hampton

I picked this up after hearing that the Library of America was printing a two volume Bernard Malamud compilation. I chose to read The Natural since I'd seen the film when I was young, and was enthralled. I was excited because I figured that this would follow that age-old law wherein the book is superior to the film. Of course sometimes this universal dictum is inverted. We see this in Peter Benchley's Jaws. Jaws as a book is awful. But as a film, it is beauty and brilliance, and I defy anyone to say different.The Natural is fairly straightforward. A young man named Roy Hobbs is setting out on a path to greatness. The kid is going to be the best in the game of baseball; the best there was and ever will be. Life's train jumps its tracks and Hobbs doesn't become a ballplayer until his 30s.I didn't like the book. But the ending is solid, almost great. While the ending may not fully justify my time spent reading, it does come close. Malamud wrote The Natural in 1952, long before the antihero was acceptable (or heard of). Hobbs is a jerk. He's arrogant and doesn't mind taking a bribe. He's not the apple-pie farm boy who just wants to do his golly-durn best. Shucks anyway Mr.! Hobbs as jerk = compelling.So for myself, the ending made it worthwhile. I thought Malamud's writing came off as pretty ordinary. I wasn't swept away by his use of language or ability to tightly tease a scene. I was frustrated with Malamud's tendency to lull the reader into following a single POV, only to then yank that rug and introduce several other POVs in quick succession. This forced numerous backtrackings (sighing all the way). It frustrated me because it wasn't necessary.If you're interested in reading early anti-hero lit, check this out. If not, just go watch the film, Redford delivers.I'm thinking I should try another Malamud. His other stuff must be better... right, Library of America?

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