Careful, pointed writing shows us that professional sports should not be viewed in isolation from the society in which they...

ONE NATION UNDER BASEBALL

HOW THE 1960S COLLIDED WITH THE NATIONAL PASTIME

As social change roiled through the 1960s, Major League Baseball was sometimes a mirror, sometimes a window.

Freelance writer Florio (Blind Moon Alley, 2014, etc.) and documentary producer Shapiro focus on baseball throughout, but they don’t neglect other sports or popular culture. The authors, who co-wrote One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title (2013), deal with Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali—his rise, his anti–Vietnam War stance—and, briefly, with the 1968 Summer Olympics and the protests by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The Beatles continually pop up, as well, but the authors’ principal interest is in how professional baseball reacted to the social turmoil of the decade. Proceeding chronologically, they highlight certain athletes, using them to illustrate issues ranging from race (black players were growing increasingly unhappy—and vocal—about their status and treatment) to religion (Sandy Koufax would miss a World Series start because of Yom Kippur). We see players battling with management (men who do not come off at all well here), with the Jim Crow South, and with the rise of unionism in the sport. The authors spend some time with Curt Flood’s struggle with baseball’s reserve clause, and they continually remind us of the deep darkness of that decade: the political assassinations, the war, the clashes over civil rights. Sometimes, their focus drifts a bit when there are particularly engaging sports tales to tell—e.g., the amazing years for pitchers Bob Gibson and Denny McLain and the racial frustrations that often animated the performances of Ernie Banks and Dick Allen. The authors interviewed many of the principals and read numerous books written by them; they are especially strong on Jim Bouton’s transformative sports memoir, Ball Four (1970).

Careful, pointed writing shows us that professional sports should not be viewed in isolation from the society in which they function.

Pub Date: April 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8032-8690-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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...

CONCUSSION

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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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