As swift and entertaining as a close race—but rarely contemplative or introspective.



A New York Times sportswriter spends the year 2000 following some prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys as they prepare for horseracing’s Triple Crown.

Drape has a problem with suspense: Fans of horseracing already know the outcomes of the three races that comprise the final pages of this galloping chronicle. But his julep is not entirely mintless, for the strengths of this account are the portraits he paints of the various players. “Hope is robust,” he writes. “It is the horses who are fragile.” Note the who. In this extravagant world there are no insulting which’s or that’s trotted out to refer to horseflesh. But Drape’s portraits contradict his conclusion. More fragile by far than the horses are the egos of everyone involved. We begin in August 1999 Saratoga, where the author introduces some of the major players and begins explaining fundamentals like claiming races. He then moves to one of the annual yearling sales, where we meet the enormously wealthy Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who flies in his own 747 from the United Arab Emirates to bid millions of dollars for animals he thinks one day might win a Big One. We meet the two top trainers in the country, Bob Baffert and the flamboyant D. Wayne Lukas, as well as a couple of bright but lesser lights, Neil Drysdale and Jenine Sahadi—the most successful female trainer in the country, who must cope not only with God’s dumbest creatures (male chauvinists) but also with horses. Drape periodically inserts passages of memoir about the deaths of his father and mother, about his imminent divorce (he refers to his spouse as his “soon-to-be ex-wife”), and about his own passions for betting and racing (including his experience of owning a quarter horse). He expresses little skepticism about his world and is silent on such subjects as cruelty to animals, egregious excess, and the dark side of gambling.

As swift and entertaining as a close race—but rarely contemplative or introspective.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87113-785-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.


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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