An entertaining book that contains everything you never imagined you wanted to know about chess.

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THE GRANDMASTER

MAGNUS CARLSEN AND THE MATCH THAT MADE CHESS GREAT AGAIN

A championship chess match and more, as Butler (The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway's Ghost in the Last Days of Castro's Cuba, 2015, etc.) illuminates the possibilities and limitations of commodifying a game that has been an obsession for so many for so long.

For those who don’t play, popular interest in chess might begin and end with Bobby Fischer, or maybe it extends to the matches of man-vs.-computer, Russia’s Garry Kasparov against IBM’s Deep Blue, as the former entered popular folklore as “the John Henry of chess.” It likely doesn’t encompass Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, whose 2016 battle for the world championship was hailed in advance as “a coming-out party for chess”—and is the focus of this book. ESPN had somehow turned professional poker into a spectator-sport sensation, and the feeling was that chess was next, on the verge of popular attention it had rarely received since Fischer. The biggest challenge for the author was that “I’d never encountered more impenetrable people to interview than Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, presumably the game’s greatest ambassadors. I’d been given the impression I’d have had an easier time arranging an audience with Pope Francis.” Though the tension of a game may be exquisite, even excruciating, for those who know what they are watching, there’s only so much you can write to describe the interminable intervals between moves. So Butler writes all around his primary subject, going beyond the championship and the two competitors to investigate spectators, journalists, other prodigies and the fates they’d met, those who knew Fischer, and other aspects of the interrelationship between chess and New York, where the championship was held, and other events that were transpiring then and there, most significantly the coronation of Donald Trump. It’s a bravura performance by the author, who recognizes that if more people cared about that championship, this would have been a very different book.

An entertaining book that contains everything you never imagined you wanted to know about chess.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7260-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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