Fans of the pigskin will savor this vigorous account of pro football’s evolution.



How the NFL gridiron mayhem came to be, courtesy of far-thinking entrepreneurs a century ago.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, for good reason: The city, whose team had had the good luck to hire sports legend Jim Thorpe in 1915, was one of a handful of Ohio organizations that banded together to codify not just the game of football, but also principles for governing player salaries, free agency, and other matters. Even so, writes Hall of Fame executive director Horrigan (co-editor: The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book, 2012, etc.) in this lively account, Cleveland has claim to primacy, for it was the Cleveland organization that took Ohio League rules into the world and began to recruit teams outside the state. By 1920, writes the author, Buffalo and Rochester in New York and Hammond in Indiana had signed on even as rules were evolving on college eligibility. Horrigan’s opening episodes have a quaintness to them, populated by teams such as the Columbus Panhandles and the Chicago Tigers, most of which had the modern penchant for skirting the rules in order to pay and receive big money, with managers and player representatives like “Cash and Carry” Pyle doing end runs around those eligibility requirements in order to lock down players like Red Grange. Some early innovations, such as indoor football, with rules stipulating that “a forward pass could be thrown only from five or more yards behind the line of scrimmage” and the like, didn’t quite catch on, but others stuck. Horrigan turns in a pleasingly anecdotal account with many highlights, such as the turmoil surrounding the decadelong uprising by the upstart American Football League, a period echoed by the arrival of big money in the modern era, as exemplified by the New England Patriots: “When [Robert] Kraft bought the team, just about everything, including its troublesome stadium, was considered second-rate.”

Fans of the pigskin will savor this vigorous account of pro football’s evolution.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63565-359-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.


NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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