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


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.

Marianne Carney

"The Natural" was an exciting book to read. Right from the beginning the book really caught my attention. It tells the story of a boy around the age of nineteen, Roy Hobbs. He dreams about becoming a professional baseball player. When he tells a stranger he wants to be the best player in all of baseball, his life changes for the worst.In "The Natural" the author, Bernard Malamud adds a lot of details. He makes it feel like you're in the story along with Roy Hobbs. He makes you feel the same emotions the characters are feeling. The author does a good job of describing the conflict. The conflict is that Roy Hobbs has to fight to keep his dream alive. He has obstacles in his way. He is older and has to compete against the younger players and there are many distractions in his way.There were many themes in this story. One of the main ones that stuck out in my mind was to always follow your dreams. Beleive in your self and never give up. Another theme that I liked was thet sometimes in life you get second chances and if you do you should make the best of it. Sometimes in life things don't always go as planned, but if you get a second chance you should take advantage of it. I recommend this book because it talks about life and following your dreams, something we can all relate to.


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.


This book should be taught as a staple of contemporary fiction, as a sort of companion piece and counterpoint of (or would it be validation of?) The Great Gatsby. It is a truly impressive and imminently readable book, although it has all the trappings of a Literary Novel. What's nice about this book, just like Gatsby, is that the function of all those elements of modern storytelling, i.e., literary allusions and existential metaphors, doesn't actually supplant the action of the story. The plot is rather simple but elegant to the point of genius - Hemingway eat your heart out, if only he were ever able to put together a story as concise and charged as The Natural. It is one of the only fairly long novels I've read that travels like a short story (hence the Hemingway reference). It goes a lot of places you recognize without falling prey to being boring or presenting itself as a cipher; everything makes good common sense, even when it doesn't make any sense at all. I really liked this story. A lot.


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.

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.


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.

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.

Levina C.

*Warning: High school girl on a rant*I was forced to read this book for school, and, I knew as soon as I started reading it that I wasn't going to like it. For godsake, it's a novel that waxes philosophical about baseball, of all things, and dreary and cynical about life. Baseball ranks somewhere on the bottom of my list of Things I Couldn't Give Two Shits About right above Lindsay Lohan's arrest records and below Anime fanboy flamewars on Youtube. Not only that, but it is also a bit of subliminal preaching about temptation and sin. The hero in this book is lead into temptation by women, and as a result of this he fails in his heroic Quest.The other message this book sends out it basically thus: Life sucks. Even if you're a sports prodigy. There's no themes of hope or optimism presented and it was an absolute drudge to read through. Women in this novel are portrayed as a malicious and almost evil force; one woman shoots the main character in the gut, one woman has sex with him and then reveals that she is a grandmother, and one he pursues relentlessly until she seems to finally reciprocate his feelings, but she betrays him in the end. Like I said, cynicism.Also, I don't know who cleared it for use in high school English courses because it is clearly not PG-13 and although there were no outright sex scenes in it, some scenes were very graphic and resorted to describing the colours of naked womens' pubic hair. They must have forgotten that it's hormonal teenage boys who are going to be reading this. I rue the day I was choosing courses and didn't ask about the curriculum first.

Daniel Urban-brown

There are two Roy Hobbs in the world (sorry Shane Spencer): Robert Redford's Roy Hobbs and Bernard Malamud's Roy Hobbs. They are very different characters but it's virtually impossible not think of Redford's face when reading the novel. While Redford's Hobbs was a natural hero who used the sadness of his past as wisdom to ultimately triumph, Malamud's Hobbs is much more flawed and his quiet "triumph in defeat" at the end of the novel is questionable. When it comes down to it--Redford himself is best when he plays heroes, whether it be scruffy heros like Butch Cassidy or Johnny Hooker, or the more serious kind like Bob Woodward. The problem is that the Roy Hobbs of Malamud's novel is an extremely flawed every-man who just happens to be a great baseball player. He lacks all the self-reflection and soulfulness that Redford contributes to the character. So, essentially, the reader is left with a 35-year-old "jock" as a protagonist and, unlike the movie, the novel turns out to be more about failures than successes. In Malamud's novel Hobbs ends up a failure. And while it may be true that he finally may have made the right choice in Iris over Memo (or at least rejecting Memo), he is not a man who finishes the novel with a sense of gained-insight and inner peace. Instead of the final scene of Redford throwing a ball to his son in a field of wheat, Malamud's Hobbs ends the novels in tears after being confronted for his failures by a news boy in the street. Not Malamud's best novel but not bad, either. However, I would recommend THE ASSISTANT and A NEW LIFE over the NATURAL.

Matt Rainson

I'm not generally a fan of sports books, so my expectations were low. But I have to say that, beginning to end, this book was (not an exaggeration) stunning. The ending alone (much different from the Hollywoodized version) is one of the most powerful I have ever read. The movie is great, but the book is even better.

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.

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.

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.

Michael Brockley

What is there to say about Bernard Malamud's THE NATURAL? Scenes and images from the movie are sprinkled throughout the novel but this is a darker, more disturbing story about a man with unlimited prospects whose path to baseball immortality is thwarted before it ever began. The man who emerges in the dugout of the New York Knights twenty years later is a man obsessed with smashing records and satisfying his gustatory and carnal appetites. Roy Hobbes inhabits a world of baseball noir which shares its rugged landscape with baseball lore: the Ruthian called shot (which fails), the ball player shot by an obsessed woman, a tip of the hat to the Dodger fan with the cowbell and the iconic exploding clock. But this setting is patrolled by dark cars that follow the hero as he pursues his infatuation with a femme fatale. A Pittsburgh fan throws rocks at players and is, in turn, beaten until he cries by a NewYork stalwart. Malamud keeps the pace of the pennant race and the hero's demise gripping. And his use of verbs should be studied by those who long to infuse their prose with power. This is not a tale of redemption but of a driven man pursued by demons. A man who falls short with the game and the women that obsess him. A man who has a talent, a gift, but weaknesses as well. Pop Fisher, the manager of the Knights says, "...a whole lot of people are like him, and for one reason or the other their lives will go the same day all the time, without them getting what they want, no matter what. I am one." And this. The last quote in the book was born of baseball's greatest betrayal.

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