Maybe it’s the circumstances, but the writing here is always thoughtful, always attentive, and shorn of the trimmings.




Life by and on the sea may have worked its juju on the writers of these fine tales of commercial fishing, but they convey enough of the work’s hard, raw—at times terrifying—side to keep readers from rushing out to get their fishing licenses.

It’s a line of work that many consider the most dangerous going. Its elemental, heroic, romantic, and ancestral qualities have drawn all manner of writers, but 19 of the good ones are counted in this collection. A few of them will be known to even casual readers of deep-blue fishing tales: John Cole, Gavin Maxwell, and Peter Matthiessen, who contributes a sweet little piece on earning the respect of the fishermen out of Montauk, Long Island, after three years as a one of them. Less well known names also produce some shining material. Seth Harkness writes of diving for urchins in “water that wouldn't melt an ice cube for weeks at a time” off the winter coast of Maine; Paul Molyneaux goes after swordfish with a harpoon on the Georges Bank, where the Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream and “in alternating wafts of cold and warm air we can smell icebergs and coconuts.” Wendy Erd draws with splendid economy the laying of a setnet for salmon across a piece of the Ugashik River in Bristol Bay, Alaska, while Linda Greenlaw makes it plain as day why she became a swordboat captain in this story of her roots along Maine's Penobscot Bay. Martha Sutro throws all caution to the wind by taking on the “unconventional, hard-working, dangerous, and distant life” of crabbing in a Bering Sea winter, then Spike Walker, doing what he does best—scaring the bejesus out of readers by recounting desperate moments of fishermen in harm’s way—tells the outrageous survival story of a crabbing boat that rolled during one of Alaska’s coldest winters on record.

Maybe it’s the circumstances, but the writing here is always thoughtful, always attentive, and shorn of the trimmings.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-27726-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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