A solid work of sports journalism and encouraging reading for jocks who are late to the game but committed to the win all...

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THE NEW SCIENCE OF ELITE PERFORMANCE AT ANY AGE

An exploration of the “elite athletes…who continue to perform and compete at the very highest levels long after the age most of their peers have faded away.”

It’s a strange thing that many of the letter jacket–clad kids you went to high school with dissolve into uncomfortable lumps by the time the 25th reunion comes around. “There’s evidence,” writes technology and business journalist Bercovici, “that the later an individual matures, the more likely he or she is to achieve athletic greatness.” Peaking after 20 is thus not a bad thing at all, particularly with life spans extending as far as they do now. In Plimpton-esque moments, Bercovici tackles various aspects of the fitness-for-elders movement, including an encounter with a VersaClimber machine that threatened to do him in: “After another 30 seconds, I’m not thinking anything because all the glycogen in my body is rushing to my muscles to replace my zonked-out stores of adenosine triphosphate, leaving none left over to power my frontal cortex.” The author examines the changes that occur in the older body, which, perhaps amazingly, can be reversed to some extent with exercise so that the production of hormones and circulation of proteins in the bloodstream in a 60-year-old master athlete is more similar to those of a 30-year-old than to those of a sedentary 60-year-old. Along the way, Bercovici considers various exercise regimes and their effects, the technology of exercise and of sports medicine, and ways of hacking the diet for increased performance, such as eating all the chicken gristle, cartilage, and bone that you can stomach: “Have you ever seen a hyena with bad knees?” It’s a good question, if perhaps a little unappealing to the food-squeamish.

A solid work of sports journalism and encouraging reading for jocks who are late to the game but committed to the win all the same.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-80998-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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