While the disaster makes for some spellbinding reading, Knecht’s treatment of what prompted the sailors to take to the seas...

THE PROVING GROUND

An account of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race debacle, this one focusing on three of the participants, from Wall Street Journal correspondent Knecht.

Anyone who sails across the Bass Strait from Sydney, Australia, to Hobart, Tasmania, will come up against some of the nastiest blue water on the globe. The annual race that has run this course for the last half-century is famously plagued by particularly cruel weather that comes in intervals of seven years—and 1998 lived up to its seventh-year billing by throwing the worst storm ever upon the contestants. Severe storm warnings were posted before and during the early hours of the event, but no one expected the 100-foot waves brought about by a handful of mad and convergent weather systems. Knecht concentrates the first half of his account on three of the participants (all of great wealth) who flew in the face of danger: Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Rob Kothe (a manufacturer of lifeline-throwing guns), and retailer Richard Winning. Although the author suggests that the men were variously “motivated by a kind of deeply rooted ambition that would never be satisfied,” possessed of an “abiding hunger for the kind of glory that winning the Hobart could bring,” or gnawed by a “sense that he was part of a generation that has never faced the kind of challenges that men should,” none of the reasons adequately explains why they would tempt such horrid fate (since the Bass Strait’s reputation was notorious). More commanding is Knecht’s handling of the storm-lashed hours at sea, as the crews of the three boats were pounded mercilessly—sailors were lost on both the Kothe and the Winning boats—while the heroic search-and-rescue squads pulled the lucky ones to safety.

While the disaster makes for some spellbinding reading, Knecht’s treatment of what prompted the sailors to take to the seas not only falls short, it falls prey to their macho swagger: “Such is love,” he quips of their mortally reckless behavior. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-49955-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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