A highly readable warts-and-all portrait of an athletic giant, but those who prefer their idols unblemished may want to...

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SWEETNESS

THE ENIGMATIC LIFE OF WALTER PAYTON

SI.com and Wall Street Journal writer Pearlman (Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty, 2008, etc.) delivers a definitive biography of one of the NFL’s all-time greats.

Though some of Walter Payton’s (1954–1999) records have been broken since his 1987 retirement, his image as a gridiron hero, and arguably football’s greatest-ever running back, has endured. Pearlman’s book provides much to enhance that image, and a bit to tarnish it as well. An extraordinarily gifted athlete known for his ferocious stiff-arm, his refusal to run out of bounds and his unparalleled work ethic, Payton was, and is, beloved by football fans. But to those who knew him, even close friends and family, he was an enigma. Praised as the ultimate team player, he would sulk and whine if not given the ball as much as he felt he deserved. After years of carrying mediocre Chicago Bears teams, Payton threw his equipment to the ground in disgust and hid in a closet after finally winning a Super Bowl, when Bears coach Mike Ditka allowed William “Refrigerator” Perry, not Payton, to score a touchdown in the game. Known for going out of his way to befriend marginal players who were certain to be cut, for spending hours with sick children, for knowing the names and backgrounds of every employee, Payton was an absentee father and serial womanizer who provided financial support for, but never met or acknowledged, his illegitimate son. Pearlman at first seems not to recognize the disparity, repeatedly describing Payton as a humble man while recounting anecdotes that indicate otherwise. Eventually the author confronts the puzzling contradictions of his subject’s personality, but refrains from psychoanalysis or other attempts to explain them. The section on the infamous 1985 Bears, a team rife with dysfunction everywhere but on the field, is a highlight, as is the description of Payton’s senior year in high school, when Mississippi schools were forced to desegregate. The book’s devastating conclusion shows the familiar depressing decline of an athlete in retirement and his shocking death from cancer at 45.

A highly readable warts-and-all portrait of an athletic giant, but those who prefer their idols unblemished may want to steer clear.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59240-653-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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