A crisply written, effectively compelling chronicle.

READ REVIEW

THE LIMIT

LIFE AND DEATH ON THE 1961 GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT

Vivid biography of a fast-and-furious competitor on the Grand Prix racing circuit.

Former New York Times editor Cannell (I.M. Pei: Mandarin of Modernism, 1995) freely admits to not owning a car nor considering himself a particularly “impassioned driver,” yet his biography of Phil Hill, a California mechanic who became the only American-born driver to win the Formula One Drivers’ Championship Grand Prix, is a passionate, ambitious work. The author retraces Hill’s youth, eager to escape the grip of his domineering, argumentative parents as a kid maturing in Depression-era Southern California. An early infatuation with cars found him tinkering with engine parts rather than playing team sports. An indifferent college student, Hill soon dropped out to work as a mechanic and international motor salesman, a livelihood that financed his first flashy European sports-car purchase. Time spent as a Jaguar trainee spawned some accomplished racing of his own throughout his eventful mid 20s, a time when both of his parents died within months of each other and the racing enthusiast became plagued with anxiety spells. Cannell astutely draws on a wealth of sports publications, memoirs and magazines to convey Hill’s distinctive passion for the raceway and his competitive nature that belied a reputation for being kindhearted, timid and prone to severe stress. Hill climbed the ranks as a Ferrari rookie driver and meticulous automotive diagnostician, and was soon joined by crash-prone German nobleman teammate Count Wolfgang von Trips. Winning the Italian Grand Prix in 1961 proved to be the bittersweet pinnacle of Hill’s career as von Trips died in the same race in a tragic spinout that also killed 15 spectators. Cannell doesn’t lean on the crutch of exposition to convey Hill’s intrepid, sporty story, demonstrating great talent as a biographer.

A crisply written, effectively compelling chronicle.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-55472-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

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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