Gracefully written and compellingly argued, this is one of the best books of the year and one of the best sports books ever...

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THE GAMES

A GLOBAL HISTORY OF THE OLYMPICS

A tour de force history of the Olympics in romanticized myth and politicized reality.

As thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators and tourists prepare to descend on Brazil for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games this summer, sports fans are getting a daily dose of information about potentially toxic waters clogged with human waste and tales of how facilities will not be completed on time. This all takes place against a backdrop of political and economic chaos in Brazil. There is nothing new in this intersection of Olympic planning gone awry and controversial political machinations in host countries. Indeed, as Goldblatt (The Game of Our Lives: The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain, 2014, etc.) shows in this fantastic history of the Olympics, far more rare were the instances of smooth planning and a lack of political chaos. The author traces the games back to their Hellenic roots, but he also places them in the context of the myths that emerged around them in the 19th century, as various efforts to revive Olympic-style games picked up pace, finally gaining a foothold with French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a self-mythologizing romantic who laid the foundation for many of the Olympic ideals that in most cases embody little more than invented traditions. Goldblatt, best known for his unparalleled books on soccer, has a fine grip on sports in general and an even better understanding of the politics of sport. He shows the myriad ways in which the attempts by International Olympic Committee power brokers to separate sport from politics were themselves deeply entrenched in conservative political mindsets, and he reveals the barrenness of most demands that participating athletes be pure amateurs.

Gracefully written and compellingly argued, this is one of the best books of the year and one of the best sports books ever written.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-29277-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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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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