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Superb: Essential reading not just for fans of the sport, but also for students of geopolitics.

A learned, wide-ranging study of football—soccer, that is—as something that’s much more than just a game.

The French philosopher Guy Debord devoted much attention to the spectacle, which is meant, writes Goldblatt (The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, 2016), to “not just distract but commodify, blind and stupefy too.” That’s one function of sports—namely, to keep us from recognizing what’s going on around us. The author, who may know as much about soccer as any person on the planet, takes the story far beyond that, into realms that particularly embrace politics, those systems that make things happen to people. One instance among dozens is the place of soccer in Hungary, a nation headed by a neofascist who once played the game himself and who has built an outsized stadium in his home village, “held up by huge, breathtaking trusses of laminated mahogany set in the great fan patterns of a Gothic cathedral.” Other intellectuals come and go in Goldblatt’s pages, including the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who commented, “football is popular because stupidity is popular.” The sneer is unnecessary, but the fact is that soccer is the world’s single most popular sport—and is even gaining ground in the U.S. and China, which had previously ignored it. Goldblatt does a lot of on-the-ground footwork to track the game’s fortunes, observing that Asia is emerging as a soccer power; Africa has superb players hampered by lack of money; and the game is growing by leaps even as the corruption surrounding it is breathtaking and even if it often seems an expression of warfare by other means, as when, in a match between South Korea and China, “Chinese authorities surrounded the Korean squad and the stadium with thousands of troops.” There’s no corner of the globe that Goldblatt doesn’t explore, and his book updates and overshadows Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World (2004).

Superb: Essential reading not just for fans of the sport, but also for students of geopolitics.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63511-9

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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