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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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

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. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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