DARWIN'S ATHLETES

HOW SPORT HAS DAMAGED BLACK AMERICA AND PRESERVED THE MYTH OF RACE

A white scholar's righteous (at times even self-righteous) debunking of the racial folklore of American sports, which made complex legends of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali, and a contemporary icon and media commodity of Michael Jordan. Hoberman is a professor of Germanic languages (Univ. of Texas, Austin) with a longtime research interest in the role of sports in culture and history (Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport, 1992). He is justifiably outraged that America's sports obsession, driven by its huge commercial sports, media, and entertainment complex, has focused many black youths on athletic achievement, to the detriment of academic and intellectual accomplishment. He goes on to debunk the myth of color-blindness and racial harmony in today's sports world. He also criticizes the black middle class for its complacence about all these debilitating influences. But few African-Americans have much impact on the sports star-making machinery, and many are as distressed as Hoberman about the culture's oversteering black youth toward sports and entertainment as the path to success. (The late Arthur Ashe founded an organization of sports professionals to mentor talented young black athletes and broaden their sense of options beyond a big pro sports payday and celebrity, a fact of which Hoberman seems to be unaware.) Hoberman is most compelling, however, in his wide-ranging survey of 19th-century anthropological and ethnological literature, and he exhaustively shows how old racist notions of black physique have been oddly recycled in contemporary commentary on athletic competition. Hoberman means this to be an antidote to confusing media hype about black sports heroes, and at its best, it provides the fascinating intellectual and social history behind the modern sports contest. Unfortunately, the author belabors his points, and some of his hyperbolic social arguments run away with him. (b&w line drawings)

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1997

ISBN: 0-395-82291-0

Page Count: 367

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

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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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