The 150-word Review: Civilizations are built upon their waste. They are not only judged by what they create: art, architecture, literature, technology, laws; but also by what they leave behind: waste, detritus, garbage, excrement, and trash. By studying their waste, layer by layer, we can understand societies. Don DeLillo focuses a meticulous archeologist’s eye on the American civilization and its waste in his magnum opus, “Underworld.”
DeLillo has the ability to distill the universal down to the personal and to project the idiosyncratic upon the grand. In “Underworld,” DeLillo begins with an single object from a historic event, the missing baseball from the “Shot Heard Around the World” in 1951, and places it in the hands of his central protagonist, Nick Shay, a waste management executive, in 1992. From there, DeLillo works backwards, through each stratum, uncovering the traces of Nick’s life, while also studying the shifts and erosions of the American century.
You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra, Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Baseball Memorabilia, Chess Prodigies, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, political and avant-garde art, and waste.
Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the reason they called it a “shot heard around the world” was due to the high number of U.S. servicemen who listened to the game on Armed Forces radio.