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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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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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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