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An out-of-the-ordinary account of pop culture. (Illustrations, not seen)

What happened to a former Next Big Thing is the topic of some entertaining reportage by Newsweek Silicon Valley correspondent Stone, who elucidates the interactions of business and art, of men and machines.

Not long ago, an animatronics maven from Industrial Light and Magic experienced an epiphany: How about dueling robots? There were at the time high-minded, mildly competitive engineering challenges at MIT and elsewhere. But robots designed to destroy each other was different. The idea of battling “bots” was eagerly adopted by clever nerds, garage mechanics, and jazzed gearheads, and in 1994, an arena in the Bay Area was invaded by Meccano sets gone mad. The machines sported flippers and flame-throwers, probes, prongs, spikes, and chainsaws as well as pistons, gears, treads, tires, and elaborate electronic circuitry. Sparks, smoke, and especially deafening noise characterized the affair. It was more than a hobby. The commotion was called a sport, perhaps even art. Inevitably, the first financial backer and the originating artist parted ways. Television spotted the possibilities of the destructive machinery, and on cable former Baywatch babes elbowed out the robobuilders. In the destruction, British TV, MTV, and toy makers saw the future. Proprietorship was disputed. Lawsuit followed lawsuit, and the loyalties of the tinkerers were tested. The robot wars became tedious legal wars. And so the glory days may be past, at least for the first generation. But the bots are loose and roaming and won’t be tamed. In lots of ways, Stone’s report may be emblematic of our civilization. His admonitory tale is strong on descriptions of the machines and the combat; of even more interest are the people he candidly describes, from the young enthusiast who had to be placed in a psych ward to the Bruce Wayne–like rich guy who tried to save the day.

An out-of-the-ordinary account of pop culture. (Illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-2951-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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