A competent sports book, but a sharper edge on the author’s narrative knife would have sliced more deeply below the surface.

WHEN SATURDAY MATTERED MOST

THE LAST GOLDEN SEASON OF ARMY FOOTBALL

Sports Illustrated editor and writer Beech debuts with an account of Army football’s last great season, 1958, when the team finished 8-0-1 and declined a Cotton Bowl invitation.

There are no structural surprises here. An introduction tells how football fans began shifting their allegiances to the NFL after 1958, how that year was “the end of an era.” The author then proceeds through the season, game by game, pausing to sketch settings and biographies of his principals. The leading character is the coach, Earl Henry “Red” Blaik, who retired at the end of the season after a 121-33-10 record at the U.S. Military Academy. Beech portrays the coach as a near-divine presence on the campus (players waited to be spoken to), a man whose assistants always deferred and who maintained a close relationship with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who received game films every week. The author also deals with the great crisis of Blaik’s life—the 1951 academic cheating scandal that involved his own son, who was dismissed from the academy along with scores of others—and profiles a number of players, including Heisman-winning halfback Pete Dawkins, the talented runner Bob Anderson and the celebrated “Lonesome (or Lonely) End” Bill Carpenter, who never entered the huddles but stayed far down the line of scrimmage, where he received signals from his teammates. The author deals carefully with the intrateam rivalries and jealousies and relates highlights of each game, sometimes excessively so, with occasional sports clichés (“blaze of glory”). Beech neglects discussion of the racial composition of the lily-white Army team, and the final chapters belong to the where-are-they-now genre.

A competent sports book, but a sharper edge on the author’s narrative knife would have sliced more deeply below the surface.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-54818-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

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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