In a league with George Leonard’s Mastery and John Jerome’s The Elements of Effort, this is a strong vademecum for weekend...



An inspired and inspiring memoir of one man’s conquest of wimpiness.

For more than a decade, McKibben (Maybe One, 1998, etc.) has been building a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful, encyclopedic writer on the environment. His bookish life, he ruefully relates, may have won him fame, but it also left him soft and squishy; never much of an athlete, he nursed hard memories of hating Richard Nixon (not for Vietnam but for mandating “the 600-yard run, a distance that seemed to me unimaginably long”) and of being humiliated for not being able to do a single pull-up in PE class. Having hit 37, “the age when age starts to seem like age,” McKibben resolved to take charge of his body, and here he provides a spirited account of his transformation from underachiever to, well, a slightly better class of underachiever. “Almost no one writes about sports from the point of view of the mediocre, offers insights from the middle of the pack,” he cheerfully notes before launching into a fact- and anecdote-laced narrative on the salutary effects of constant striving, constant effort, and constant improvement in every aspect of life. For one, he writes, the exertion of sports (he chose cross-country skiing, perhaps the best aerobic workout around, but he has much to say about distance running, yoga, and backpacking as well) affords “a feeling of total clarity,” an ability to focus on the task at hand and to still the “stopless chatter that usually fills my brainpan.” He talks to an impressive array of trainers, sports physiologists, therapists, and doctors, and he quotes from the sporting literature authoritatively. But the best moments of this fine book are those in which he finds the obstacles within himself and overcomes them—a process that readers will want to try on themselves.

In a league with George Leonard’s Mastery and John Jerome’s The Elements of Effort, this is a strong vademecum for weekend warriors seeking to change their lives.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-85597-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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


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...


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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