Eisenberg’s melding of history and sports journalism is altogether superb.

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THE GREAT MATCH RACE

WHEN NORTH MET SOUTH IN AMERICA’S FIRST SPORTS SPECTACLE

The first large-scale U.S. horse race between the rivaling North and South, promoted as a contest of speed versus stamina (or “bottom,” in turf parlance).

In the 1800s, spectator sports weren’t popular. The slowness and difficulty of travel kept people from journeying far from home; baseball, football and basketball were nonexistent; and exercise itself was viewed as “dangerously arousing.” The only sport that could consistently draw a crowd was horse racing, and such events were staged only a few times a year. In 1822, William Ransom Johnson, determined to prove the superiority of Southern horses, concocted a challenge to unseat Eclipse, the unbeaten Northern champion. Johnson approached Cornelius Van Ranst and John Stevens, the men in charge of the eight-year-old stallion, proposing a match race at New York’s Union Course. Johnson pledged to bring a horse “from anywhere in the land beyond the confines of the North” to be named on race day. The stakes—$20,000—were significant. The match race would consist of two four-mile heats, and in the event of a tie, the horses would run a brutal extra heat, bringing the race’s grueling total to 12 miles. Despite Eclipse’s age and the unknown caliber of his opponent, the offer was quickly accepted. As 60,000 fans gathered, Johnson—a horseman so renowned he was known as the Napoleon of the Turf—decided to run a fleet youngster named Sir Henry. A nervous Van Ranst deemed Eclipse’s usual jockey, 49-year-old Samuel Purdy, too old for the race, replacing him with a younger, inexperienced rider. After Sir Henry easily won the first heat, Purdy was pulled from the stands, and guided Eclipse to victory in the second heat. Sides heaving, legs trembling, the exhausted horses rallied for their third and final match. Spectators held their breath: Would the North or the South prevail?

Eisenberg’s melding of history and sports journalism is altogether superb.

Pub Date: May 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-55612-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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