ROWING AGAINST THE CURRENT

To be middle-aged and ghosting a scull through the early morning light of a Lake Cayuga dawn: that’s where Strauss finds himself, a pilgrim of sorts, searching for a little self-affirmation. But he’s also a junkie, rapt in the glow that pervades the ancient craft of rowing. The sport appealed immediately to Strauss (History and Classics/Cornell; co-author, with Josiah Ober, of The Anatomy of Error: American Military Disasters and Their Lessons for Modern Strategists, 1990). It wasn—t just that he needed the workout (bookish, he had long preferred the couch to the gym) or that the oars seemed to speak to him of fluid dynamics and Nile oarsmen and red-brick-and-ivy regattas. Rowing also held the promise of testing the athletic competence and resolve of someone who had fumbled painfully as a child. Redemption seemed to lurk in the boat, a wedding of the cerebral and corporeal. Yet this isn—t so much the story of a personal quest. Instead, Strauss revels in the sheer beauty of the sport, from the flow state brought on by the rhythm of perfect oar work to the burnished murk of capacious, ever-so-seedy boathouses. The author’s enthusiasm is infectious, buoying the heft of his writing and allowing for an extended investigation into stroke mechanics, a complex, balletic suite of movements. Strauss also makes something well worth reading from the curious blending of elite and common that permeates rowing: it was a poor man’s gambit in classical Greece, but an aristocratic pursuit in ancient Rome and pharaonic Egypt; it was a favorite sport of the Gilded Age, complete with race fixing and assorted scandals, and yet the sport also found a following in the mining towns of southern Canada. Redemption is a big word. Still, by any measure, Strauss has tapped into something special out there in his scull. He does fine service to his sport in this memoir.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-84321-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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