AGAINST ALL ODDS

AROUND ALONE IN THE BOC CHALLENGE

An exceedingly deadpan account of a challenge race, an entire circumnavigation of the globe, from a professional (and impoverished) Australian sailor. The BOC Challenge is the longest sailing race for an individual: 27,000 nautical miles, in four stages. In September 1994, Nebauer and 19 other competitors sailed out of Charleston Harbor, S.C., and took anywhere from 121 to 223 days (not counting layovers) before they saw the lights of Charleston again. Nebauer sets the tone of his narrative early: ``I was determined simply to do my best.'' He's a no-bluster type, never suggesting that he'd like to whip his opponents' collective butt or burn the course for a new record. He was, he says, simply happy to ``push on, trimming sails and keeping the boat at its peak.'' But this was not to be a cakewalk. His alternators died, forcing him to landfall; water ruined his computer, leaving him unable to receive weather and fleet updates, or news from home; screaming winds, high seas, and rogue waves dismasted him and tore off his rudder—both profoundly dangerous events. Others might have panicked or given up, but Nebauer stays almost too steady: He ``put his plans for the jury rigging to God'' and waxes stoically that ``we were determined to finish what we started.'' What enlivens the tale are Nebauer's evocative descriptions of the spectacular weather that rolls over him, and his comfortable use of sailing argot: beam winds and rhumb lines, third reef points, luff grooves, and flaking genoas. After 181 days at sea, after all the adversity and exhaustion, after so much sheer terror, Nebauer finished in the middle of the pack, won two medals for seamanship (one for saving the life of a fellow competitor), and found energy to note that he looked forward ``to the possibility of taking up the challenge again.'' Taciturn and terse, he is true to form to the last. (60 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-07-470331-5

Page Count: 166

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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