I HAD A HAMMER.Hank Aaronand Lonnie Wheeler.HarperCollins.333...



Hank Aaron

and Lonnie Wheeler.


333 pages. $21.95.

The biography seems to be one of the cottage industries of baseball: If a rookie gets hot for a few months and helps his team win a pennant, the next spring will bring his "life story." Usually, it entails a series of deep insights such as ". . . I struck him out on a curve ball." It is a rare a star who waits almost 20 years to tell his story; it is rarer when the book is complex, thoughtful and literate. But Hank Aaron is such a person, and "I Had a Hammer," written with Lonnie Wheeler, is a fascinating reflection on a man and his times.

Growing up black in Mobile, Ala., he understood society was a two-tier system. But some were able to beat the system, and Mr. Aaron's hero and role model was Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in the major leagues in this century. When Mr. Aaron first played professional baseball, it was in the Negro League. Life on the road was a series of racial insults. When they were in Washington and eating at an integrated restaurant, the dishes were broken in the kitchen -- not washed. After his contract was sold to the Boston Braves, Mr. Aaron quietly began building a career that included breaking the home run record of Babe Ruth, for many Americans a baseball icon. As Mr. Aaron closed in on the record, he and his family were threatened and received thousands of crank letters.

"I Had a Hammer" is an uncommon biography. It is a moving portrait of a family man who had a talent and determination that would change a national institution.

Ever considered answering a personal ad? Mary Higgins Clark's new thriller will make you think twice. The man who places the ad that begins "loves music, loves to dance" is not looking for a long-term relationship; he kills his partners once they've tripped the light fantastic.

Darcy Scott's best friend Erin answered the ad, and shortly thereafter her body was found on a deserted pier. Darcy vows to avenge her friend's death by tracking down the murderer, so she begins dating the men Erin had met through the personals.

The plot is rather contrived, to be sure; every man Darcy encounters seems to have something incriminating in his

background. And like all of Ms. Clark's books, "Loves Music, Loves to Dance" is shamelessly manipulative -- it's obvious that everything is leading up to a final confrontation with the serial killer. Still, there's no denying that Ms. Clark is a consummate pro at making pulses pound, and her new novel should satisfy readers in search of a good scare.



By the staff of Southern Living.

Oxmoor Press.

191 pages. $50.

The introduction calls this book a "distillation" of photographs that have appeared in Southern Living magazine. The South that is represented, from Annapolis and Washington to Guthrie, Okla., is a picture-perfect region. We see breathtaking mountain landscapes, unblighted cities, rural lanes without litter -- a focus calculated to please the intended audience of Southerners and lovers of the South willing to pay $50 for a picture book.

And that's all it is. The essays are dreck ("To be apart and yet seek company was certainly innate to Southerners of Scotch-Irish extraction") and the captions are just as graceless. But ah, the photos -- especially the one of Mexico Beach, Fla., that pulls at you to run on the sand, catch up with those people 200 yards down the beach and jump into the blood-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.


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