This book is essentially a companion work to The Long Season which Brosnan had written a few years prior. The earlier work chronicled Brosnan's season that began with the Cardinals and ended with the Reds. This book takes place entirely with the Reds during a season in which they would win the National League pennant and eventually lose to the Yankees in the World Series.
The Long Season is generally regarded as one of, if not the, best account of day to day baseball ever written. After its success and positive reviews, Brosnan, a pitcher nicknamed "the professor" due to his intellect, glasses and bookish habits, comes back here with another account of another season. The format is familiar and similar to the earlier work with Brosnan recounting numerous day to day conversations between himself and other players and his views of the occurrences both on and off the field.
While not boring, the first 2/3 of Pennant Race doesn't hold enough of the readers interest to make it comparable to the prior work. The book moves along with recap after recap of game after game so that they all tend to blend together in the reader's mind. Nothing much makes an impact as there isn't much of consequence going on.
That changes in the last third of the book as the Reds come down the stretch with the Dodgers, vying for the pennant. At this point the book begins feeling like there is a direction to the narrative and a purpose to each day's actions. With this returns the reader's interest. Brosnan's anecdotes of shoddy umpiring, hungover players, players watching the stands for attractive women and the failings of himself and other players finally have bite. The last few chapters, during which the Reds and Dodgers are locked in a tight battle for a chance to face the Yankees are excellent and the stress and pressure is well presented.
As always Brosnan presents a good deal of political, racial and cultural commentary--from Kruschev to the growing immunity of feeling to the word "nigger" by the black baseball players around him, his recap of the 1961 baseball season captures not only the sporting season but also that particular period in American culture. This isn't quite the work that The Long Season was...but its not exactly a sophomore slump either.