THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN

INSIDE THE WORLD OF ESPN

The massive, eagerly anticipated oral history of ESPN.

Journalist Miller and Pulitzer Prize–winning TV critic Shales (Live from New York: An Uncensored History of “Saturday Night Live,” 2003) chronicle the unfathomable growth of the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” In 1979, the entrepreneurial father/son tandem Bill and Scott Rasmussen hatched a hair-brained business plan: a 24-hour cable “entertainment and sports programming network”—or, as it came to be known, ESPN. The improbable rise from fly-by-night operation in the backwater of Bristol, Conn., to the world’s most powerful sports brand is an epic tale, replete with scandals and skeletons the authors dutifully cover. Many of these will be old news to fans of blogs like Deadspin that are dedicated to bringing down the ESPN juggernaut, but it’s the cutthroat negotiations with partners and sponsors, the ingenious (and occasionally disastrous) attempts to innovate and the ongoing clash of conservative company policy with flamboyant on-air talent that will hook readers. The interviewees—who include former chairman Steve Bornstein, current president George Bodenheimer, fan favorites Chris Berman, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and dot-com star Bill Simmons—range from closely guarded to bluntly self-interested in their commentary, requiring the authors to find the right mix of breadth of opinion and storytelling acumen—a balance they strike with admirable consistency over the course of nearly 800 pages. Inevitably, repetition creeps in as subjects hammer home the same themes, and the authors sometimes shift topics when more commentary is called for on the prior one. These are minor quibbles, however, in a definitive account that not only manages to offer insight into a pop-culture phenomenon’s seemingly impossible success (sometimes in spite of itself), but also highlights how that success irrevocably altered the cable landscape. A championship effort by two men who can rightfully lay claim to having written the book on ESPN.

 

Pub Date: May 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-04300-7

Page Count: 764

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

DUMB LUCK AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

The latest collection of interrelated essays by the veteran fishing writer.

As in his previous books—from The View From Rat Lake through All Fishermen Are Liars—Gierach hones in on the ups and downs of fishing, and those looking for how-to tips will find plenty here on rods, flies, guides, streams, and pretty much everything else that informs the fishing life. It is the everything else that has earned Gierach the following of fellow writers and legions of readers who may not even fish but are drawn to his musings on community, culture, the natural world, and the seasons of life. In one representatively poetic passage, he writes, “it was a chilly fall afternoon with the leaves changing, the current whispering, and a pale moon in a daytime sky. The river seemed inscrutable, but alive with possibility.” Gierach writes about both patience and process, and he describes the long spells between catches as the fisherman’s equivalent of writer’s block. Even when catching fish is the point, it almost seems beside the point (anglers will understand that sentiment): At the end of one essay, he writes, “I was cold, bored, hungry, and fishless, but there was still nowhere else I’d have rather been—something anyone who fishes will understand.” Most readers will be profoundly moved by the meditation on mortality within the blandly titled “Up in Michigan,” a character study of a man dying of cancer. Though the author had known and been fishing with him for three decades, his reticence kept anyone from knowing him too well. Still, writes Gierach, “I came to think of [his] glancing pronouncements as Michigan haiku: brief, no more than obliquely revealing, and oddly beautiful.” Ultimately, the man was focused on settling accounts, getting in one last fishing trip, and then planning to “sit in the sun and think things over until it’s time for hospice.”

In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6858-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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