A second-tier Into Thin Air.

READ REVIEW

THE LAST MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN

THE DEATH OF AN AMERICAN ADVENTURER ON K2

A dashing explorer climbs but does not descend from the world’s second-tallest mountain. Mountaineer/filmmaker Jordan (Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2, 2005) ponders the whys.

Dudley Wolfe was born into the easy life. “Like many a child of vast wealth, he lacked the need, and therefore perhaps the drive,” writes the author, “to dedicate himself to learning algebra, Latin, or the history of ancient Rome.” That’s the padded way of saying Wolfe was a rotten student, but not without ambitions as an athlete and explorer, wedded to the notion of sailing off to distant shores. So it was that he volunteered for action as an ambulance driver—training ground for literary greatness, à la Hemingway and Cummings—on the Italian frontlines in World War I, where, Jordan portentously writes, he saw “man after man, body after body, some getting hit before his eyes with their shattered legs collapsing beneath them, others blown naked of their clothes by the bomb blast, their torsos and limbs hanging from the trees above.” Or did he? Disconcertingly, the author mixes the real and the potential, setting off chunks of imagined dialogue in italics. From them, we learn that every mountaineer says “hell” a lot, but the results of the invention are without much affect: “Hell, it was more like 26,000 feet since he’d started at the ocean. And here was the end of it all; a small, almost trivial ditch of snow.” Shorn of these dubious flourishes, the narrative would have suffered no loss but that of a few pages—and the best of it would have fit into a long-form magazine article. Jordan is solid with her generous descriptions of her subject’s good nature, though, and with her account of finding evidence of Wolfe’s story some 60-plus years after the fact on the mountain he scaled but did not leave.

A second-tier Into Thin Air.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-07778-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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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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