An elegant little meditation on life and the afterlife, well worth reading while waiting for spring.

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BASEBALL AS A ROAD TO GOD

SEEING BEYOND THE GAME

A tour of religious thought from the vantage point of that most perfect of cathedrals, the baseball diamond.

“Baseball can teach us that living simultaneously the life of faith and the life of the mind is possible, even fun,” writes lawyer, theologian and New York University president Sexton near the close of this examination of religion’s chief questions as seen through a baseball glove. So it can, and if Stephen Jay Gould observed that science and religion were nonoverlapping magisteria, baseball might just connect them into a Venn set. If science sharpens the mind to a razor edge, then, Sexton counters, religion is a medium of “contemplation, sensitivity, awareness, and mystical intensity”—and so, as every fan knows, is the game, which makes, as Sexton deems it, “a wonderful laboratory.” There are some big questions to ponder, many of which Sexton explores. If there is a just supreme being in charge, for instance, then why have the Cubs labored in the vineyards of hell for so many years? Can God hit a home run so powerful that He can’t catch it? More to the point, Sexton observes, baseball’s calendar is nearly liturgical. Its doubters often become converts to the faith, while its true believers are so often dashed against the rocks; it is a matter of saints (Lou Gehrig) and sinners (a much longer list), with some (Shoeless Joe Jackson) fitting on both lists. Sexton’s view is refreshingly small-c catholic, embracing Taoism, Dante and Yogi Berra in a single sweep, and his enthusiasm for both baseball and the otherworld is refreshing. Whether it will make a doubter of a believer is another matter, for while there may be no atheists in the foxhole, there are still those sad souls who march away from Wrigley Field season after season.

An elegant little meditation on life and the afterlife, well worth reading while waiting for spring.

Pub Date: March 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-592-40754-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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