Long on the human-interest angle, trivial as a piece of tennis writing.




The actual playing of tennis becomes a sideshow in this gossipy profile of the women’s pro tour, from Sports Illustrated writer Wertheim.

Years of uninspired play by “moonballing baseliners” on the women’s tennis tour was eclipsed, Wertheim posits, when a cohort of electrifying young players sent a considerable buzz through the circuit. Burning bright was Venus Williams, who took both the US Open and Wimbledon as well as both gold medals at the Sydney Olympics. And as an African-American, she and her enormously talented sister Selena blew fresh air through the musty precincts of the Women’s Tennis Association. Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and a host of newcomers were also playing numinous tennis, with Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati making comebacks. Yet Wertheim is primarily concerned with the hype, the money, the glamour, and the dirt as he follows these players and others through the 2000 tour. (Which is a shame—when he lets his tennis writing peek through, such as in describing the US Open, it shines.) What we learn from these pages is that Hingis is “an Uzi of candor” who needs an image consultant; that Seles is “an unregenerate capitalist”; that Anna Kournikova “has a magnetic force field that can pull grown men out of their orbit”; the earthshaking news that women’s professional tennis has deplorable dads and a whole lot of bed-hopping; that the players are “sassy, brassy divas” who are “ready for the catwalk.” Of course, there are also the Williams sisters, tennis’s “urban legend,” but Wertheim lets “the tennis father from outer space,” Richard Williams (famed for “blowing smoke in all directions”), dominate the story. Unfortunately as well, Wertheim is given to snickering inanities such as “men’s tennis could use some Viagra,” not to mention the title.

Long on the human-interest angle, trivial as a piece of tennis writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019774-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


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.


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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