The author’s tribute is heartfelt, and Sweat is a worthy subject, but there simply isn’t enough material here for a...

An earnest attempt to view championship racehorse Secretariat through the eyes of his African-American groom.

In 1973, “Big Red” became America’s tenth Triple Crown winner, setting track records at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and romping over the finish line at the Belmont Stakes 31 lengths ahead of his closest competitor. During his two-year racing career, the thoroughbred was groomed by Edward “Shorty” Sweat. Considered one of the best in the business, he had back-to-back Derby winners in 1972–73 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Some 30 years later, Scanlan (Wild About Horses, 1998, etc.) decided to write generally about the groom-horse bond and specifically about Sweat, who died in 1998. Gathering memories from other grooms, exercise riders and Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, the author discovered that everyone held the same opinion: Edward Sweat was a kind man and a superb horseman who loved Big Red. They didn’t have much to say beyond that, however, and Scanlan’s decision to mimic people’s speech patterns makes reading some of the interviews an embarrassing experience. (Exercise rider Charlie Davis, for example, speculates that if Secretariat could have talked, the horse would have told him, “I am the pilot. You is de co-pilot.”) Sweat should have had a larger share of Secretariat’s winnings, the author believes; his contributions to the thoroughbred’s victories have been overlooked by history. Yet in his heyday, the groom made the cover of such mainstream magazines as Essence and Ebony, and he was still being quoted extensively in racing publications at the time of his death. Lacking the kind of detail about Sweat’s personality that would make this more than just another biography of Big Red, Scanlan doesn’t add anything to the accounts of the racehorse’s career provided by Raymond Woolfe in Secretariat (2001) and William Nack in Big Red of Meadow Stable (1975).

The author’s tribute is heartfelt, and Sweat is a worthy subject, but there simply isn’t enough material here for a full-length book.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-36724-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007


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


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

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. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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