Solid sports journalism, though perhaps in the service of an unworthy cause—and, cautionary tale aside, you can bet the...

CYCLE OF LIES

THE FALL OF LANCE ARMSTRONG

The definitive—well, until the next exposé comes along—account of cycling champion and charlatan Lance Armstrong’s well-oiled career and its sordid collapse.

New York Times writer Macur begins with a set piece, our fallen, disgraced hero having been found out and forced to leave his comfortable digs, in this case, an Austin mansion stuffed with the goodies that millions of dollars in sponsorships and endorsements can bring. “Armstrong doesn’t want to move, he has to,” writes the author portentously. “His sponsors have abandoned him, taking away an estimated $75 million in future earnings.” Of course, they did so since, after years of rumors and outright accusations, it has finally been established without doubt that Armstrong won his races, including several Tour de France titles, with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Macur is a no-stones-unturned reporter on that score, assembling a convincing history of that shadowy subject and establishing that competitive cycling and doping have always gone hand in fingerless glove. However, though Macur is scrupulous in allowing Armstrong plenty of room to have his say, there’s not much here that we didn’t learn in the course of the documentaries and 60 Minutes segments that accompanied the bicyclist’s gradual fall over the last couple of years. The reporting is thorough and the writing good, but in the end, the salient facts are really the stuff of a magazine piece, which makes the book overlong. And though Armstrong has freely admitted taking banned substances in all seven of his once-storied Tour de France victories, he lied long enough that one wonders whether it’s best to condemn him to damnatio memoriae rather than spend another moment thinking about him.

Solid sports journalism, though perhaps in the service of an unworthy cause—and, cautionary tale aside, you can bet the chemists are working on something new for the next generation of racers to take.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-227722-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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