Elegant, even Plimptonesque at points—top-notch sports history.

THE RIVALRY

BILL RUSSELL, WILT CHAMBERLAIN, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL

Taut, well-crafted account of the fierce decade-long rivalry and odd friendship between two (literal) giants of basketball.

It’s a long-standing conundrum for sports fans: Do we cheer for the virtuoso prima donna who plays by his own rules, or do we cast our lot with the exemplary team player who plays fair and wins all the same? The question animates Esquire writer Taylor’s (The Count and the Confession, 2002, etc.) portrait of the race between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to dominate the NBA, a race that proved so newsworthy, and so freighted with drama, that it helped make basketball a major sport. Boston Celtics center Russell played, after all, for a team that was “a purely commercial afterthought in a sport without strong roots in the city’s culture,” and in an arena that was seldom more than half full; Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, came aboard a team that had been an afterthought, too, until he brought his impossible-to-defend fadeaway shot. Well over seven feet tall (he would not allow himself to be measured), Chamberlain was a star, and he acted the part; the marginally smaller Russell played as part of a well-tuned team. From the time they first faced off, in 1959, each knew that the other was the competition. Chamberlain—hailed as “probably the greatest athletic construction ever formed of flesh and blood”—got the better press, especially after Russell began to espouse black nationalist views; yet Russell neatly matched Chamberlain in ability, so well, in fact, that Boston was “the only club in the league that did not feel it necessary to double-team Chamberlain.” In their final showdown, a decade later, Chamberlain behaved very oddly, Russell denounced him and their rivalry took a bitter turn for years after either figured on the court. Taylor’s account of this singular contest is a highlight of a book full of fine moments.

Elegant, even Plimptonesque at points—top-notch sports history.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6114-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

DUMB LUCK AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

The latest collection of interrelated essays by the veteran fishing writer.

As in his previous books—from The View From Rat Lake through All Fishermen Are Liars—Gierach hones in on the ups and downs of fishing, and those looking for how-to tips will find plenty here on rods, flies, guides, streams, and pretty much everything else that informs the fishing life. It is the everything else that has earned Gierach the following of fellow writers and legions of readers who may not even fish but are drawn to his musings on community, culture, the natural world, and the seasons of life. In one representatively poetic passage, he writes, “it was a chilly fall afternoon with the leaves changing, the current whispering, and a pale moon in a daytime sky. The river seemed inscrutable, but alive with possibility.” Gierach writes about both patience and process, and he describes the long spells between catches as the fisherman’s equivalent of writer’s block. Even when catching fish is the point, it almost seems beside the point (anglers will understand that sentiment): At the end of one essay, he writes, “I was cold, bored, hungry, and fishless, but there was still nowhere else I’d have rather been—something anyone who fishes will understand.” Most readers will be profoundly moved by the meditation on mortality within the blandly titled “Up in Michigan,” a character study of a man dying of cancer. Though the author had known and been fishing with him for three decades, his reticence kept anyone from knowing him too well. Still, writes Gierach, “I came to think of [his] glancing pronouncements as Michigan haiku: brief, no more than obliquely revealing, and oddly beautiful.” Ultimately, the man was focused on settling accounts, getting in one last fishing trip, and then planning to “sit in the sun and think things over until it’s time for hospice.”

In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6858-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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