Avoiding the sentimentality surrounding the 50th anniversary of Robinson's major-league debut, Rampersad compellingly projects his life against the backdrop of the persons and institutions that affected him and that he, in turn, helped to change. Jack Roosevelt Robinson's early life in Georgia and California Was more or less defined by racial segregation. Tracing Robinson's journey through college, military service in WW II, professional baseball, marriage, fatherhood, and his later careers in business and public service, Rampersad (author of a two-volume biography of Langston Hughes) demonstrates how Robinson's determination was often both his greatest strength and his Achilles' heel. Nowhere was this more obvious than during his brilliant baseball career, where his combativeness occasionally put him at odds with fans, opponents, and even teammates. Robinson's transition from baseball to ""private"" life in 1957 was smooth--the game had left him modestly wealthy and socially well connected. However, he did encounter difficulties during these years. Quick to take to the stump for a cause or a friend, Robinson sometimes clashed with other civil rights and political leaders, including Malcolm X, whose appeals for black separatism frustrated the integrationist pioneer. During the tumult of the '60s, Robinson became estranged from his eldest son, Jackie Jr., who after being wounded in Vietnam, later fell into a cycle of crime and drug dependency. (Jackie eventually recovered and was reconciled with his father, only to die in a motor accident in 1971.) After Robinson's death in 1972, President Richard Nixon, a longtime friend and admirer, hailed him for having ""brought a new human dimension not only to the game of baseball but to every area of American life."" A former opponent, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, spoke another kind of truth, about Robinson, both as a ballplayer and as an idealist: ""He could beat you in a lot of ways."" Somewhat languidly paced but nevertheless gripping, this oustanding biography is in every way worthy of its esteemed subject.