Beguiling. (14 illustrations)




If humans can’t fly, the next best thing is falling—at least for those so neurologically wired—and newcomer Soden entertainingly and perceptively explores it.

Heights—and, by extension, falling—provide an unparalleled visceral kick, and tempting gravity goes way back in the human experience, from land divers and vine jumpers to minstrels balancing on tightened ropes high in the air. But the romantic movement, writes Soden, with its glorification of heroes and its urge to master nature, gave birth to nascent parachute jumping and other precarious challenges, amplifying the thrill. In the US, such characters as the notorious Sam Patch—who jumped from great heights into water—played to the national image of the rugged individualist confronting fear and tapped as well into the lure of financial reward. (See Paul E. Johnson’s Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper, above.) Soden covers the evolution of gravity-defying sports: vertical skateboarding, biking, surfing, BASE jumping, and free soloing climbs. He is careful to put each in its social and athletic context—observing the difference, say, between Tony Hawk and Karl Wallenda—and to explain how falling is the perfect modern sport, thanks to its democracy and individuality, its immediate gratification, and, perhaps a bit cynically, it and other X-Games being “perfectly suited for the quick-cut MTV style voyeurism that has permeated popular entertainment.” Rarely cynical, however, Soden is fascinated by people who commit themselves to such danger—the more so when money is not an issue—and he takes readers into the strange world of the thrill gene and the chemistry of the urge, “the constant tension between primitive fear and civilized thought.” From there, it’s only a step to rapture, “the radiant mojo,” the flow state that provides “a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality.”

Beguiling. (14 illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05413-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich...



A reflective and entertaining journey through Japan, as the author seeks to reconnect with his martial arts sensei.

Lowry is a student of koryu (not to be confused with kendo), a style of Japanese classical swordsmanship. Koryu is a medieval art, like Noh and the tea ceremony, a style of combat born on the battlefield–but more importantly, it’s a way to address the world (though an esoteric one: Lowry may well be the only American practicing the art in the United States). Indeed, present-day practitioners refrain from exercising its fatal possibilities. Lowry’s sensei left the U.S. to return to Japan, urging Lowry to follow. Though his life headed in a different direction, he never forgot his training–when the time was ripe, he journeyed to Japan to join his sensei. The narrative revolves around this pivotal decision, and it provides a warm center from which the author expounds on such topics as the glories of a Japanese bath; the evolution of the Samurai caste; the peculiarities of Japanese landscape architecture; the elements of proper sandal-tying; the custom of the premarital shenanigans called yobai; and the teachings of mikkyo Buddhism. He also includes the vital story of the sword–what it reveals about Japanese life and technology, social structure and aesthetic values, etiquette, apprenticeship and the process of education. Lowry’s seriousness lends an earnest cast to the proceedings, but he’s not without a sense of humor–commenting upon his accomplished slurping of noodles, a friend’s wife notes, “He really sucks!”

A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich tradition.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-890536-10-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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