A useful reference for diehard baseball historians; others can leave this one in the clubhouse.

READ REVIEW

BUT DIDN’T WE HAVE FUN?

AN INFORMAL HISTORY OF BASEBALL’S PIONEER ERA, 1843–1870

How America’s pastime got its swing.

In the three decades before the Civil War, baseball was in its infancy. There were no standardized rules for the game, much less a consensus on what to call it: Depending on location and the culture of its players, it might be known as wicket, town ball, round-town, the Massachusetts game or countless variations thereof. Using first-person recollections, recorded statistics and newspaper clippings, Morris (Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball, 2007, etc.) identifies the era as crucial to baseball’s emergence as the national sport. Some facts about the early game—each presented in assiduous detail—will likely surprise modern enthusiasts: e.g., the procedures of the game before designated pitchers; players having to actually hit a player with the ball to record an out; and the traditional use of a single ball during the game, typically memorialized by shellacking and proudly displaying it. While Morris considers the official founding, in 1845, of the Knickerbockers as the first important baseball club, he also puts baseball’s far-flung evolution in context, jetting from town to town across the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest to illustrate how other locations began to adopt the game—or resist it via strict laws that prohibited public ball playing. The author also emphasizes the game’s origins as a courtly, gentlemanly pursuit, conveying the ethos of an era when the spirit of baseball was pure fun and social comity, not the profit-driven venture it is today. Morris also debunks the persistent legend of Abner Doubleday as the founder of baseball. Dedicated statistics geeks will revel in the seemingly inexhaustible supply of arcane facts and figures, but casual baseball fans may be overwhelmed.

A useful reference for diehard baseball historians; others can leave this one in the clubhouse.

Pub Date: March 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-56663-748-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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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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A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich...

PERSIMMON WIND

A MARTIAL ARTIST'S JOURNEY IN JAPAN

A reflective and entertaining journey through Japan, as the author seeks to reconnect with his martial arts sensei.

Lowry is a student of koryu (not to be confused with kendo), a style of Japanese classical swordsmanship. Koryu is a medieval art, like Noh and the tea ceremony, a style of combat born on the battlefield–but more importantly, it’s a way to address the world (though an esoteric one: Lowry may well be the only American practicing the art in the United States). Indeed, present-day practitioners refrain from exercising its fatal possibilities. Lowry’s sensei left the U.S. to return to Japan, urging Lowry to follow. Though his life headed in a different direction, he never forgot his training–when the time was ripe, he journeyed to Japan to join his sensei. The narrative revolves around this pivotal decision, and it provides a warm center from which the author expounds on such topics as the glories of a Japanese bath; the evolution of the Samurai caste; the peculiarities of Japanese landscape architecture; the elements of proper sandal-tying; the custom of the premarital shenanigans called yobai; and the teachings of mikkyo Buddhism. He also includes the vital story of the sword–what it reveals about Japanese life and technology, social structure and aesthetic values, etiquette, apprenticeship and the process of education. Lowry’s seriousness lends an earnest cast to the proceedings, but he’s not without a sense of humor–commenting upon his accomplished slurping of noodles, a friend’s wife notes, “He really sucks!”

A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich tradition.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-890536-10-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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