Inspired by his 5-year-old son’s fascination with the pageantry of a televised Army game, Drape went to West Point looking...

SOLDIERS FIRST

DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, AND FOOTBALL AT WEST POINT

New York Times sportswriter chronicles the 2011 edition of the Black Knights football team.

During the 1940s and ’50s, Coach Red Blaik’s undefeated, powerhouse teams thundered up and down Michie Stadium’s field, and Army featured players—Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis, Pete Dawkins—talented enough to win the Heisman Trophy. At the outset of Drape’s (Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen, 2009, etc.) account of last year’s young, not-very-talented team, he concedes that the glory days of Army football are over. He’s in search, however, of something else: Where, in the moral sewer of today’s big-time college athletics, does honor still reside? His book contains a game-by-game replay of the disappointing three-win season, but the author is mainly concerned with explaining what it’s like to play a Division I sport at a place where the idea of a student-athlete is real. He focuses on the coach, Rich Ellerson, the team’s three captains, the quarterback and a few others to tell about a culture where being a player “is a picnic compared to being a West Point Plebe,” where football training camp is far easier than the field training to which all cadets are subjected, and where gridiron disappointments must be set aside quickly, because “[t]here is always something more important coming at you.” At the United States Military Academy, no Hollywood celebrities or NFL stars show up at practice (although a Medal of Honor winner might), no player receives special treatment to ensure his eligibility, nor are any concessions made to cadets who are soldiers first, players second. In reporting this story, Drape had “unfettered access to the Academy.” He’s returned from the banks of the Hudson with a sports book that has far more to do with character, intellect and sacrifice than it has to do with football.

Inspired by his 5-year-old son’s fascination with the pageantry of a televised Army game, Drape went to West Point looking for college football’s “good guys.” He most certainly found them.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9490-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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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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