A deeply reported, thoroughly engaging look at what it takes to succeed in the NFL—and a perfect complement to the NFL...

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WAR ROOM

THE LEGACY OF BILL BELICHICK AND THE ART OF BUILDING THE PERFECT TEAM

A longtime Patriots chronicler goes inside the brain trust of the NFL’s most successful team.

In the NFL, team building—drafting, trading and signing fee agents—is a multimillion-dollar business with many livelihoods and professional reputations at stake. The widely acknowledged virtuoso of this peculiar blend of art and science is Bill Belichick, GM and head coach of the New England Patriots. Holley (Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston’s Rise to Dominance, 2008, etc.) traces the genesis of Belichick’s “Big Idea” back 20 years when, as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, he began piecing together notions—particularly, the idea of a uniform player-evaluation system—about how best to construct a consistent winner. Working for him then were scouting assistant Scott Pioli and young groundskeeper Thomas Dimitroff, both of whom, after extended apprenticeships under Belichick in New England, would go on to helm NFL franchises elsewhere, spreading the gospel of The Patriot Way. With Belichick as the principal and Pioli and Dimitroff in supporting roles, Holley dives deep into the complexities of the draft and the subtleties of an appraisal system sufficiently exact to rely upon, flexible enough to allow for exceptions. There’s plenty of inside-football, but the narrative soars when the author’s in storytelling mode, drawing sharp portraits of the three very different franchise architects and other prominent NFL figures, supplying behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the Patriots’ glorious run (three Super Bowl championships, one perfect regular season), the team’s infrequent failures (e.g., the notorious Spygate episode), the contributions and departures of key assistants and pivotal players, the abiding brilliance of quarterback Tom Brady and the emerging efforts by Pioli in Kansas City and Dimitroff in Atlanta to reshape the football culture—to replicate, albeit with their personal stamps, Belichick’s master plan.

A deeply reported, thoroughly engaging look at what it takes to succeed in the NFL—and a perfect complement to the NFL Network’s compelling miniseries Bill Belichick: A Football Life.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-208239-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: It Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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