An interesting portrait of a uniquely American—and, more specifically, southern—institution.

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THE WILDEST RIDE

A HISTORY OF NASCAR (OR, HOW A BUNCH OF GOOD OL’ BOYS BUILT A BILLION-DOLLAR INDUSTRY OUT OF WRECKING CARS

The chronological progression of stock car racing and its governing body, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), is examined in this anecdote-filled yet reflective account.

Legendary driver Richard Petty once said that auto racing began “the day they built the second automobile,” but according to sportswriter Menzer (Four Corners, 1999), stock car racing developed in the southeastern US during the 1930s, when moonshine runners would try to outrun federal agents. This quickly led to loosely organized races among the moonshiners, which led in turn to the formation of NASCAR in 1947. The first president of the organization was Big Bill France, a northerner who organized the renegade sport primarily by devising a points system (to determine the winners) and by disqualifying any modified cars from the races. Sponsorships helped expand the races (particularly the landscape-altering deal made with the Reynolds Tobacco Company in the 1970s), but it was always the drivers and their stories who captured the attention of the diehard fans—from such colorful early-day drivers as Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Humpy Wheeler, and superstar Fireball Roberts to later stars like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon. Candid stories show the friendships and rivalries of the drivers and reveal some of NASCAR’s high and low points (one of the lowest being the day that black driver Wendell Scott won a race and was denied his trophy by the judges, who feared a riot from the rowdy crowd). An interesting digression looks at the evolution of safety standards (often implemented only after a death of some famous driver or other) in a sport known for its high fatality rates.

An interesting portrait of a uniquely American—and, more specifically, southern—institution.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-0507-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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

WHY WE SWIM

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.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

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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