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If only all centuries-old conflicts were this gentlemanly. (8-page b&w photo insert, not seen)

A cheering celebration of one of football’s great rivalries, by two Boston-area sportswriters.

Corbett and Simpson use the 2002 season as a backdrop against which to project the history of the annual Harvard–Yale contest in late November. Corbett is Harvard’s play-by-play announcer, and it shows in the writing, which can be both stirring and loquacious as the action—and there is a lot of action here—moves back and forth through time. In the early years, when the sport featured bouts of mayhem that contemporary fans wouldn’t even call football, Harvard conducted its brutal Bloody Monday games, while Yale partook in the ritualistic battering of Annual Rush. Both events had been banned by 1860. It wasn’t until 1875 that the two teams first met, but they have been doing so ever since, taking time out for wars but little else. (Nineteenth-century players, a rough bunch whose early stars included one referred to as a “tightly wound ball of hate,” could easily have transferred their skills to the battlefield.) Corbett and Simpson replay a host of the most memorable games, including the surreal 19–19 contest that Harvard “won” in 1968. They profile enough stellar coaches and players to fill a Hall of Fame, and allow each one a few choice words. Occasionally the prose veers into the overwrought: “It is living history—two of the country’s most storied schools defending their honor,” played out by “gridiron combatants [who] were destined to become stockbrokers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, and doctors.” More fitting is the authors’ characterization of The Game, as it has come to be known, as a friendly rivalry with an admirable tradition of cordiality and respect. Corbett and Simpson also do well to remind readers that The Game is also a game, to be savored and enjoyed by sportsmen rather than thugs.

If only all centuries-old conflicts were this gentlemanly. (8-page b&w photo insert, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-5068-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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

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. 4, 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...

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. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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