Cover Image: The Last Folk Hero

The Last Folk Hero

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Member Reviews

Who knows Bo?  Jeff Pearlman does!  Pearlman writes a compelling biography of Bo his triumphs and failures and particularly the what might have beens. Pearlman brings the enigmatic Bo to life(as best as possible—Bo is notoriously tight lipped) and equally as interesting brings Bo’s team mates and the owners of the teams he played for to life. It is these characterizations that really make the book zing. That as well as Pearlman’s writing style—full of sarcasm, wit, and insight. He is my favorite writer who writes about sports. I’ve read his USFL book and will read all of his other books in short order. You should too.
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This book sucked me in. 

I couldn't put it down. Being a similar age to Jeff, I know I am the target audience for a book like this. But I learned a ton about Bo Jackson. The most important thing being that our memories are fallible since I remembered so many of these situations, but I wasn't remembering them accurately. 

I didn't remember Bo Jackson being surly. 
I didn't remember him not really playing all that much when he played football. 
I remember the Boz v. Bo differently. 
I could have sworn that Bo had a much different baseball career. 

Which I guess is the point of the book's title. 

Really great book.
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Good investigation by the author. More or less a standard, chronological description of Bo Jackson's early life and athletic career. I thought there could have been more reflection on his character and the mystique around him, rather than highlighting individual moments of greatness.
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I loved "The Last Folk Hero" at hello, as the line from the movie "Jerry Maguire" goes.

The hello in this case is the introduction. Author Jeff Pearlman writes that he was in the Atlanta airport one day, going through security. He is stopped, predictably enough, because he has a brick in his carry-on bag. That's right, a brick. The security agents have a predictable response: You can't take a brick on to the plane with you. 

Pearlman explains that this isn't just any brick. It's from the first house of Bo Jackson, a legendary athlete. The house was abandoned and allowed to crumble, but there were a few bricks still on the ground. Pearlman, deep into this writing project, thought he needed to have a brick for his inspiration of a biography. It took some convincing, but eventually someone at the airport who knew about Jackson decided that taking a brick from Bo's home wasn't a bad idea at all ... and let it through.

Speaking as someone who has a brick from Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium in the garden, I immediately identified with Pearlman's quest to explore Jackson's life - brick by brick. The finished building, er, product, is "The Last Folk Hero," and I doubt you'll read a more interesting and thorough biography this year.

Most of us known the skeleton of Jackson's story. He grew up poor in Alabama, and sports became something of a refuge for him. Eventually it was on to Auburn University, where he won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best player. But Bo also was a heck of a baseball player, giving him some options when it was time to choose a career. He stunned everyone by signing with baseball's Kansas City Royals, even though he was the first overall NFL draft choice by the bumbling (at the time) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Bo was a raw baseball talent, but seemed to have skills far beyond those of mortal men. He hit baseballs so hard and far that observers were simply left speechless. On the basepaths, he was essentially a truck. I happened to be at the game in Kansas City in which Jackson was a baserunner headed home, and Rick Dempsey of the Orioles was waiting with the ball. Bo put his shoulder down and tried to ram the catcher so hard that he'd drop the ball. It was a collision straight out of the NFL, as Dempsey wound up halfway between home plate and the dugout. But he held on to the ball, and Jackson was out. 

Baseball wasn't quite enough activity for Bo, and he decided he wanted to play football in his spare time. Who does that? He was occasionally sensational, even though he wasn't particularly interested in such aspects of the game as blocking and catching passes. But when he took off on a long run, it was breathtaking.

Alas, the story was shortened by a hip injury suffered during a football game. Hip replacement surgery was needed, and that ended the football side of Jackson's career. He tried coming back to play baseball, but couldn't match his own high standards. 

Skeletons only reveal so much, even to forensic scientists. It's the seemingly ridiculous episodes of Bo's life that make this book so fascinating. Pearlman tracked down more than 700 people for interviews, and it only seems as if they all had a "Did you see that?" moment when it came to Jackson. This was a man who picked up a discus as part of high school track meet, and with a few minutes of coaching threw it 20 feet farther than the Section champion. This is someone who could jump completely out of a swimming pool and land on his feet. (OK, it was the shallow end. But still.) He could throw out baserunners from more than 300 feet away, and he could leave football tacklers either grasping at air or left clobbered on the ground. He once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.13 seconds. Add that up, and it was hard to know with the person ended and the legend began.

That all made him one of the top celebrities in the country when it came to endorsements. You might remember Nike's "Bo Knows" campaign, which featured a commercial with him playing a variety of sports ... plus the guitar, with Bo Diddley. That's impressive for someone who had to overcome a childhood stutter and thus didn't talk in public much. 

Still, all of those sources help to fill in the stories around those incidents. What comes across quite clearly is that Jackson was a man who always did what he wanted to do. That could mean he would report to a team when he wanted to do so, and not when the team wanted him. That could mean he would be distant and rude to teammates and to the public and its proxies. But he also could be generous to a fault with others. Jackson seemed to mellow as he went along. Now he doesn't have much unwanted contact with others, as he's happily living with his family in the Chicago area.

It's quite a life story, and Pearlman tells it completely. It checks in at around 500 pages, but it's never boring along the way. If you want to read about the man who could be summed up as Paul Bunyon in cleats, "The Last Folk Hero" will be the place to go.
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Those who pick up this book looking for a feel good book about a legend in Alabama are going to be disappointed. Not because of the writing in the book, but by the way the writer describes a folk hero at Auburn. The book is a bit misleading. It's not an "as told to" book. It's a book developed from other sources about Bo Jackson. 
It doesn't paint him in the best of lights! Maybe it is an accurate description of the man. I'll have to leave that to those who actually know the man. I certainly know about Bo Jackson. I grew up in Birmingham and was just a year older than Bo. So I'm glad his mom decided to hold him back a year or my name might have shown up in the text too. I've got several friends whose names do appear.
For those who didn't know Bo, I'm sure it will be a great read. I was surprised to read in the end that the author never actually checked any of this with Bo. Sure Bo said he didn't mind another book being written about him according to the author. My friends say Bo wasn't pleased with the author, so take that for what it is worth.
I found it a fascinating take on a guy who I watched growing up as a peer. I know the landscape of both Bessemer and Auburn. I had good friends at Auburn when Bo was there. Like everyone else I watched in amazement at his raw talents in Baseball and Football. 
I'm sure the real Bo is not the one in his autobiography or the one portrayed in this book by someone who never really knew him either. Like every story about a folk hero, it's hard to tell the truth from the exaggeration. If it is an accurate description of the man, it's easy to see how he became that guy. 
Folks in Auburn will still love Bo. Bo probably still won't give a rip about what the author says. My guess is most won't change their mind about Bo either. After all, sometimes it good not to meet your heroes.
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I couldn't put this book down. I am not an in depth sports fan, but even I know who Bo Jackson is. If you were alive in the 80's you know that Bo knows. The author did a great job explaining why Bo was a pop culture icon of the 80's and 90's and a sports icon for the ages.

Thanks to Net Galley for the advanced copy. I really enjoyed it.
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Wow! I thought I knew Bo, but I did not know Bo. Jeff Pearlman always delivers and The Last Folk Hero continues his streak. The way he paints a picture of Bo's youth and upbringing... there's a few images that will stick in my head for a long while. I'm not sure how much people under 40 know about what a phenomenon Bo Jackson was, but hopefully this book will rekindle interest in this one of a kind athlete. Highly recommended!
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I am a big (big) fan of Jeff Pearlman and have had the joy of reading several of his books.  Further, I enjoy a great biography and this latest work by Mr. Pearlman is a great biography about the life and times of sports legend Bo Jackson. The book did not disappoint…”The Last Folk Hero” walks us at just the right pace through the Bo Jackson saga.  As with all of Pearlman’s works this is a well-researched tale of a man who reached legendary status in three sports - football, baseball, and track-and-field - but also became a Shakespearean tragic hero while still a young man.  The book captures larger-than-life athletic feats (as well as moments of great failure, both athletically as well as personally.)

I did not have any great feeling, neither good nor bad, before reading “The Last Folk Hero.” Bo Jackson has not been a sports hero to me when I was young nor when I am no longer young.  But Jeff Pearlman engaged me enough in Jackson’s life story I stopped reading my beloved British mysteries for the past several days as I became engrossed in this latest narrative.  Thanks, as always, to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and opine on “The Last Folk Hero.”
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Pearlman always writes an entertaining sports biography and this is no exception.  Bo Jackson is a legend and Mr. Pearlman does him justice.  Lots of nuggets, revelations, insights and stories.
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Exactly what you would expect by combining the writing talents and enthusiasm of Jeff Pearlman with a subject such as Bo Jackson. Pearlman covers it all, the good, the bad and the ugly of Bo. The definitive Bo Jackson biography. This book had me going to YouTube often in hopes of finding the highlights referenced in the book, and Pearlman interviewed a ton (over 700) of people on the record for this one.

Right up there with another great sports bio from 2022, Howard Bryant's "Rickey," as books that sports fan of a certain (or any) age should have on their Must Read List.
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