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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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