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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.


NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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