Not quite on par with Bringing the Heat (1994), among the best football books ever, but surely a delight for anyone...

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THE BEST GAME EVER

GIANTS VS. COLTS, 1958, AND THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN NFL

Bowden (Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, 2006, etc.) takes a sharp look at the 1958 National Football League championship game, which featured “the greatest concentration of football talent ever assembled for a single game.”

The classic Baltimore Colts/New York Giants title tilt had all the elements of a memorable game: spectacular plays and miscues, controversial calls by the officials, lead changes and, notably, the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history. Still, there were before, and have been since, dozens of NFL games every bit as thrilling. What set the 1958 contest apart to make it the best ever? Although Bowden offers a serviceable play-by-play account, he wisely focuses on a few individuals—Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Weeb Ewbank, Art Donovan of the Colts; Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Vince Lombardi, and Tom Landry of the Giants—to explain the game’s singular link to the NFL’s past and future. The author deftly examines the larger historical context shaping this coming-of-age moment, which propelled professional football to its current position as America’s favorite sport. First, the country itself—transitioning from the Old Soldier Eisenhower to the New Frontier Kennedy, from U.S. Steel to IBM, from blue-collar to white-collar, from segregation to integration—was ready for a sport embodying the ethos of the new age. For years a poor stepchild to the college game, pro football had only recently begun to adopt the scientific principles of analysis and preparation pioneered by Cleveland’s Paul Brown, advancements showcased here by some of the game’s greatest coaches and players. Second, as the overtime contest bled into prime time, millions of television sets picked up the broadcast, riveted the audience and cemented the perfect marriage between football’s electric tempo and the cool medium of television. Soon black-and-white would turn to color, the small-town feel of the sport—embodied nicely by Baltimore’s Colts—would turn big time and the NFL would transform itself into the multibillion dollar enterprise whose Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday.

Not quite on par with Bringing the Heat (1994), among the best football books ever, but surely a delight for anyone interested in the history of the NFL.

Pub Date: June 3, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-87113-988-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

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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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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