Though many liberals will dislike Baum’s conclusions (and gun rights crusaders may distrust him regardless), he offers a...

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    Best Books Of 2013

GUN GUYS

A ROAD TRIP

Engrossing social study from a rara avis: an East Coast progressive who’s also a gun enthusiast.

Former New Yorker staff writer Baum (Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, 2009, etc.) wonders at the vast gap between his social peers, who tend to abhor every aspect of firearms culture, and the “Red State” demographics that embrace it, particularly as a response to the perceived effete social meddling of liberals. He is also curious as to his own lifelong fascination with the forbidden, masculine allure of guns. For this project, he pursued a “gun-guy walkabout” through parts of the country where guns are beloved (the Southwest) or, in some cases, problematic (Detroit, New Orleans). He first obtained a concealed carry permit (noting how easy this process has become in many states), then tried to find pro-gun academics, industry types, gun-store owners, hunters and other firearms enthusiasts to share their views. He heard from many thoughtful individuals on gun culture and the social value of self-defense, though he also documents an undercurrent of embittered paranoia among “gun guys,” which he shrewdly connects to the hard economic times he observes in the working-class regions that skew pro-gun—e.g., Kentucky or Nebraska. Baum summarizes this complex effect of the gun issue on American politics by noting, “It was hard to think of a better organizing tool for the right than the left’s tribal antipathy to guns.” The author develops well-shaded character portraits, including wealthy machine-gun enthusiasts, an African-American self-defense advocate, aimless young suburban men growing up on gun-oriented video games who’ve embraced the now-notorious AR-15, and his own fish-out-of-water adventures among more conservative gun enthusiasts. Baum’s road trip into gun culture taught him about self-reliance, but he admits his core questions about firearms’ easily politicized allure remain slippery.

Though many liberals will dislike Baum’s conclusions (and gun rights crusaders may distrust him regardless), he offers a thoughtful corrective to the mutual ideological hysteria surrounding the issue of guns in America. The book should gain further exposure and/or controversy following the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

Pub Date: March 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-59541-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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

BACK FROM THE DEAD

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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