Engaging history of perhaps horse-racing’s finest moment.




Sports historian Sahadi (One Sunday in December: The 1958 NFL Championship Game and How It Changed Professional Football, 2008, etc.) tells the story of Affirmed’s 1978 Triple Crown triumph.

“The decade of the seventies,” writes the author, “was the golden age of thoroughbred racing,” as incomparable horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Riva Ridge strutted their stuff on America’s racing turf. But no horse captured the imagination of race fans, and the general public, as did Affirmed, and his rivalry with Alydar” “It was Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus, and McEnroe-Connors, right there with them.” The rise of Affirmed brought together an unlikely collection of characters. There was millionaire owner Louis Wolfson, who nine years earlier had been imprisoned—unjustly, contends Sahadi—for a white-collar crime; colorful and wise trainer Laz Barrera, who had emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to Mexico and then arrived almost penniless in California and jockey superstar Steve Cauthen. Riding since he could walk, his string of victories in 1977, at the tender age of 17, made Cauthen a national celebrity, appearing on The Tonight Show and a Wheaties box and, of course, recording an album. As 2-year-olds in 1977, Affirmed and Alydar established their own notoriety. In six meetings, Affirmed won four times, but all by a small margin. As the 1978 Triple Crown season arrived, it was anybody’s guess who among the two might emerge triumphant. While Affirmed did win each race, each time it was only by the slimmest of margins. Affirmed had established his greatness, but he had been pushed all the way by the challenge of Alydar. Sahadi ably captures the atmosphere of the horse-racing world and the characters surrounding Affirmed, although a tendency toward hagiography (Wolfson is “a distinguished man of letters with a decorous and noble appearance”) and repetition (Cauthen is too often described as “fuzzy cheeked”) occasionally bogs down the narrative.

Engaging history of perhaps horse-racing’s finest moment.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-62808-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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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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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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