Home Run

I COMMEND to you Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball by George Herman Ruth, published by A.L. Burt Co. in 1928. Though not credited anywhere in it, Ford C. Frick, then a sportswriter and later president of the National League, ghosted this book for the Babe in 1927. I wasn't old enough to read it until about 1935, but it remained my baseball bible for years afterward. Rereading it more than 50 years later, I discovered that it's really for adults, or else I haven't grown much. Today, when Roger Angell, George Will and others have turned baseball into a minor sacrament, it's good to have a terse and authoritative discussion of strategy and tactics that doesn't take the sport too seriously. When it comes to baseball, salaries are higher but not much else of importance is new since 1927.

The 1927 New York Yankees, one of baseball's greatest teams, dominate the book, though it's a who's who of oldtime greats. Frick was surprisingly candid in presenting Ruth and the others as mere mortals, though their antics seem tame compared with those of today's players. Advice to aspiring ballplayers has stayed about the same, though the Babe says nothing about finding a good agent.

Serious enthusiasts of baseball writing should have Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball, if only for historical completeness. They'll be surprised at how current it is. They may also become a bit disenchanted with the pretentiousness of so much modern baseball literature. Ford Frick turned Babe Ruth into a sage and sympathetic figure, but both men always remembered that they were only writing about a game. JEROME J. HERSH Chevy Chase What's In a Name?

BROWN UNIVERSITY mathematician Philip J. Davis's The Thread came to hand in the humorous books section of the University of the District of Columbia library. Funny and edifying pieces describe his search for the origin of the first name of the 19th-century Russian mathematician Tschebyscheff. It was Pafnuty.

Davis began this pursuit after his doctoral dissertation was published and a reader objected to his spelling of Tschebyscheff. His account of where the thread he picked up took him was published in 1983. It's now in a Harcourt Brace Jovanovich paperback, for $10.95.

Ideas about Pafnuty and a thousand other things hit him in Tasmania, Jerusalem and Providence, R.I. The reader bumps into Longfellow, Oscar Wilde, Boss Tween, James Watt, Sydney Smith and Thais. Also into the Cyrillic alphabet, logarithms, the transformation of energy and English custard sauce.

About the origin of Pafnuty, the first possibility was a Bishop Paphnutius in Thebes around 325 A.D., but the thread winds on to the modern moon. Then, it's not the end result; it's process that counts, says Davis, as he stops there and just lists the stories he has left to tell.

You don't have to know what a logarithm is to love this book. BARBARA LUTHER Washington Entrepreneurial Cybernetician

BY THE time he was 20, Elmer Sperry (1860-1930) had invented a complete street lighting system and secured local financing with which he successfully commercialized it. Over the next 50 years he would make successful applications for over 300 patents in a half dozen fields and achieve international renown. How this young man, born on a farm and raised by his grandparents in a small town after his mother died, was able to advance to the pinnacle of his profession is one of the things Thomas P. Hughes explains in Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer.

But the book is much more than first-rate biography. We also get an informed view of technology a hundred years ago, when obsolescence occurred as quickly in electrical power technology as it does today in computers. Hughes (a naval officer and Phi Beta Kappa engineer before he became a historian) also explores the strategies employed by an entrepreneurial inventor who nimbly avoided being trampled by the big industrial laboratories. Sperry is best known for his automatic pilots and anti-roll devices for ships. Hughes shows how the inventor went about combining these devices with subsequent inventions to make high-accuracy battleship gunnery practical in time for World War I. Then Sperry adopted the same principles to produce an effective autopilot for aircraft. Another Sperry invention still in use detects dangerous metallurgical flaws in railroad track. The common thread in almost all of Sperry's inventions was feedback and automatic control, concepts which were analyzed in the 1940s by the American cybernetian, Norbert Wiener, but which Sperry pioneered and commercialized half a century before.

In 1922 Sperry visited Japan and discovered that, far from being backward and imitative as most Westerners believed, the Japanese were ahead of the United States in electric power distribution and ship design. And, Hughes says, he was convinced there were no engineers in the world more studious, devoted and enthusiastic.

The handsome Johns Hopkins University Press edition of Elmer Sperry was issued in 1972, but unfortunately is now out of print. A more costly facsimile edition is available. T.E. COATES Arlington

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