A good blend of spirit and woe that would have benefited from less of the extraneous for both—spirit and woe—to shine more...

READ REVIEW

THREE STRIDES BEFORE THE WIRE

THE DARK AND BEAUTIFUL WORLD OF HORSE RACING

From Mitchell (W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, not reviewed), the story of the thoroughbred Charisma and the decidedly troubling story of his jockey.

The passion for horses is an old one—even if we have been channeling more of that pleasure of late into automobiles—and those that beat the long odds at racing have a special aura. Such is the case with Charisma. Despite being a grandson of Secretariat, the horse’s performances were spotty if bright. Not so with jockey Chris Antley, who took his craft by storm, a cocky and gifted rider who burned along at a 20% victory rate when other top jocks were humming at 7%. But Antley had a problem—two, in fact: He liked drugs and couldn’t keep a handle on his weight. The horse and the man became comeback darlings—Antley over his drugs, Charisma over his unpromising start—and Mitchell twines the relationship into a smooth braid one can’t help cheering on. That the author draws intelligent portraits of other principals—D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer, and Bib Lewis, the owner, plus others of the small handful of Antley friends—adds immeasurably. If Mitchell occasionally loses her focus and windily takes on too much history of the sport or its sidelines of gambling and media play, readers can expect her to get pretty quickly back to the main event. Which is simply that Charisma, Antley up, went on to win the Kentucky Derby, and then the Preakness, before barely missing the Triple Crown at Belmont. Genuinely touching material about Charisma’s breaking a leg is matched by a parallel story of the dwindling health of Mitchell’s lover, who is fighting leukemia, though both tales are overwhelmed by that of Antley’s decline and subsequent awful death after the Belmont loss.

A good blend of spirit and woe that would have benefited from less of the extraneous for both—spirit and woe—to shine more vividly.

Pub Date: June 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-7868-6723-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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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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