Not without its flaws, but a good choice for fans of David Halberstam’s The Amateurs (1985), Daniel Boyne’s The Red Rose...



A brightly told story of the triumph of underdogs.

In 1937, Soichi Sakamoto formed the Three-Year Swim Club, whose members were children of workers living on a Hawaiian sugar plantation. Sakamoto, a teacher who could hardly swim, had seen them frolicking in a dirty, shallow ditch and made a proposition: “Three years of discipline. Three years of sacrifice. Three years of nothing except swimming” would yield great results. If they worked hard and cared enough, he was certain they could become members of the United States men’s swim team at the 1940 Olympic Games, to be held in Tokyo. Filmmaker, journalist, and nonfiction writer Checkoway (Little Sister: Searching for the Shadow World of Chinese Women, 1996, etc.) fashions the story of the tireless Sakamoto and his eager swimmers into an exuberant, well-researched, if sometimes overly detailed celebration of unlikely champions. As a coach, Sakamoto combined encouragement—he learned the power of positive thinking from Norman Vincent Peale—with intense attention to stroke technique and training regimens. With the help of former Olympians and enthusiastic sportswriters, he publicized his team and raised money to send them around the world to compete, and they performed astoundingly well. His star, Keo Nakama, for example, swam against 1,100 competitors in Sydney, Australia, coming in first in every race. Not surprisingly, where money and fame were at stake, rivals emerged. One in particular tried to wrest control of the team from Sakamoto, criticizing his methods and manipulating himself into a position of power. But Sakamoto persisted, even when the 1940 Olympics were cancelled after Japan invaded China and subsequent games were scratched because of war. Not until 1948 did members of the team—men as well as women—compete in the Olympics, proving themselves champions. Details about training, swim times, and the team’s travels occasionally overwhelm Checkoway’s tense, vivid, and inspiring narrative.

Not without its flaws, but a good choice for fans of David Halberstam’s The Amateurs (1985), Daniel Boyne’s The Red Rose Crew (2000), and similar books.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4555-2344-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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