You don’t have to be a Buckeye to like Menzer’s tale, one of the more readable football books of recent years. But it...

A rousing, rah-rah, red-blooded stroll through the locker rooms of Columbus, home of some righteous football over the last half-century.

Ohio State, by this affectionate account from Buckeye State exile and current North Carolina–based sportswriter Menzer (The Wildest Ride, 2001), has been a college football powerhouse forever in a state where every honest citizen lives and breathes for the game and traditions are well remembered and observed. This becomes an important theme later in the narrative, for it has not always been beer and skittles—or beer and tackles, perhaps—for the stout Buckeyes. More than 50 years have passed since the great Woody Hayes, the dark hero here, came aboard as head coach and schooled them in glory. There walked a living legend, and sometimes a living cliché: Hayes loved football, whipped up his players with profane exhortations and smacked some of them around to inspire the others. If there is a constant in Menzer’s portrait of Hayes, apart from the projection of a certain sort of gridiron nobility, it is the coach’s mercurial nature: “Players and assistant coaches grew to label Woody’s rages ‘megatons.’ When he really went nuts over something, they called them ‘hundred-megatons.’ When these explosions occurred, the best advice was to stay silent and keep out of his way until it blew over.” Hayes was eventually fired after hitting an opposing player, though more unforgivably, he’d missed a couple of national titles. His successor racked up a good record by the standards of most colleges, but not good enough for OSU. Unforgivably, again, his successor’s successor dissed the locals and relaxed Hayesian standards to the point that he “eroded the level of internal discipline on the team until it bordered on the nonexistent.” The Buckeyes’ star was fading: but then came Jim Tressel, Henry at Agincourt, who proved anew that hard work makes things happen and proved as much to the Miami Hurricanes in the storied 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

You don’t have to be a Buckeye to like Menzer’s tale, one of the more readable football books of recent years. But it probably helps.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-5788-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005


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


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