Stephen J. Dubner

Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper

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"The pilot said the turbulence would last only ten more minutes. He said this every fifteen minutes. I stopped believing him over Altoona. It was the eighth of April, 1999. Beyond the turbulence, my stomach was churning under its own power, for I had set out on the most beguiling and foolhardy journey known to man: I was going to meet my hero." — From Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper

In its review of Turbulent Souls (1998), the New York Times wrote this: "While it is clearly better for Stephen Dubner if his turbulent soul stays quiet, I think readers of this wonderful book will rather hope that a continued measure of unsettlement inspires him to write more."

Now Stephen J. Dubner has returned with the brilliant Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper, a true story that reads like the wisest of novels. Dubner embarks on the kind of search that tantalizes every one of us — the search for a long-forgotten childhood hero — and in so doing, plumbs the secrets to his own survival.

When he was a boy, Dubner developed a fierce attachment to a football player, Franco Harris, the famed and mysterious running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. When Dubner's father died, this attachment became an obsession. He dreamed of his hero every night; he signed his school papers "Franco Dubner." Though they never met, it was Franco Harris who shepherded Dubner through a fatherless boyhood.

Fast forward twenty years. Dubner, by now an accomplished writer, happens to catch sight of Franco, now a businessman, on a magazine cover. His long-dormant obsession comes roaring back. He is driven to journey to Pittsburgh and even move there if necessary. He is certain that Franco will embrace him. He is convinced that he will wrest from his old hero the mysteries of the universe. And he is well, wrong.

Told with the grit of a journalist and the grace of a memoirist, Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper is a hilarious, heartbreaking, unforgettable story full of astonishing developments. It is also a sparkling meditation on the nature of hero-worship — which, like religion and love, tells us as much about ourselves as about the object of our desire. Dubner also manages to discuss the perils of celebrity, the psychology of nudity, and the vast difference between Jewish and Christian ideas about hero-worship.

Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper is a must-read for anyone who has ever had a hero, or wanted one; for anyone who considers football, as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote, "one of the really valid and deep American rituals"; and especially for people who read about others to find the truth in themselves.

Photo by Patricia O'Brien
Hero and worshiper, face to face: Stephen J. Dubner with Franco Harris at the closing ceremonies of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. (Photos by Erin Patrice O'Brien)
Photo by Patricia O'Brien
Hero-worshiper? Journalist? Stalker? Or a little bit of each? Stephen J. Dubner at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium on Dec. 16, 2000. After the game — the last to be played at the stadium — Franco Harris would be honored, and would re-create the Immaculate Reception.