SEASON OF SATURDAYS

A HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL IN 14 GAMES

Humor missteps aside, this is entertaining and enlightening for both rabid fans and newbies.

A passionate defense of college football, "a sport that often defies rational sense."

Sports on Earth writer Weinreb (The Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team, 2007) reviews the events and history of 10 significant games he believes have shaped college football and identifies issues that remain as hotly debated since the game's inception in the late 1800s. Since the beginning, college football's old guard railed against a changing, more progressive culture (Weinreb's profile of Ohio State's reactionary head coach Woody Hayes is especially edifying), such as the invention of the forward pass in 1895, the integration of Southern schools in the 1960s, and the dogged opposition to a playoff system to definitively crown a national champion, relying instead on "a perpetual argument" that both engaged and enraged fans for decades. (What Weinreb calls the sport's "ultimate irresolvability" will come to an end with the 2014 season, when the four-team playoff system will begin.) Even as far back as 1905, the sport's governing body questioned whether students should be paid. Weinreb's descriptions of the characters and plays in many games in the latter half of the century are engaging and often very funny, and his recollections of his beloved hometown Penn State Nittany Lions are sentimental without being mawkish. His style is cheeky and humorous throughout, though some of his references will go over the heads of readers who are not pop-culture savvy. These readers will be baffled by the author's calling an especially pompous and pious coach as "more Yeezus than Jesus" and exasperated when he describes the mascot of the cocksure Miami Hurricanes as resembling "a sleazed-out Howard the Duck after a night of Courvoisier."

Humor missteps aside, this is entertaining and enlightening for both rabid fans and newbies.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2781-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

WHY WE SWIM

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

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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

CONCUSSION

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

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. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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