This lacks some of the thrills and spills of Into Thin Air but is of the same class and caliber—and will make many readers...



A death-haunted saga of the scalers of heaven.

Mountaineering was, for many decades, a particularly British enterprise. To judge by the young men whom alpinist Chris Bonington recruited to climb with him in the 1950s and beyond, it was a British enterprise because its practitioners did all they could to escape “the villages, slums, and middle-class suburbs of post-war Great Britain.” Free spirits all, these climbers proved themselves on the Alps, scaling pitches of the Eiger and Mont Blanc that no one had scaled before, fearlessly riding the “Wall of Death.” Such testing done, “Bonington’s Boys” were ready for the Himalayas, when that wall became a most real thing; on their 1970 ascent of Annapurna, looking for all the world more “like a traveling rock band—the Beatles on their way to visit Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—than a traditional British mountaineering expedition,” Bonington and company lost one of their best mates. Death would become a constant companion, and the roll of those whom outdoor sportswriter and anthologist Willis (Adrenaline 2000, 2001, etc.) rightly considers to be the greatest climbing generation in history was severely thinned by weather, accident and misjudgment. Bonington himself was a capable leader, though it was not until he was 50 that he himself made the summit of Everest, guided along by ghosts. Willis gives in at times to the temptation to throw a few Monday-morning passes, but for the most part, he offers a faithful version of events as they are known to have occurred. A notable exception is the haunting close, when climber Peter Boardman, high atop Everest, awaits death, worrying that his friends would find him there, “skin dried and drawn up on his bones, hair gone white.” As indeed they did.

This lacks some of the thrills and spills of Into Thin Air but is of the same class and caliber—and will make many readers wonder why anyone would ever dare climb into the clouds.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7867-1579-0

Page Count: 560

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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