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

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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In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

DUMB LUCK AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

The latest collection of interrelated essays by the veteran fishing writer.

As in his previous books—from The View From Rat Lake through All Fishermen Are Liars—Gierach hones in on the ups and downs of fishing, and those looking for how-to tips will find plenty here on rods, flies, guides, streams, and pretty much everything else that informs the fishing life. It is the everything else that has earned Gierach the following of fellow writers and legions of readers who may not even fish but are drawn to his musings on community, culture, the natural world, and the seasons of life. In one representatively poetic passage, he writes, “it was a chilly fall afternoon with the leaves changing, the current whispering, and a pale moon in a daytime sky. The river seemed inscrutable, but alive with possibility.” Gierach writes about both patience and process, and he describes the long spells between catches as the fisherman’s equivalent of writer’s block. Even when catching fish is the point, it almost seems beside the point (anglers will understand that sentiment): At the end of one essay, he writes, “I was cold, bored, hungry, and fishless, but there was still nowhere else I’d have rather been—something anyone who fishes will understand.” Most readers will be profoundly moved by the meditation on mortality within the blandly titled “Up in Michigan,” a character study of a man dying of cancer. Though the author had known and been fishing with him for three decades, his reticence kept anyone from knowing him too well. Still, writes Gierach, “I came to think of [his] glancing pronouncements as Michigan haiku: brief, no more than obliquely revealing, and oddly beautiful.” Ultimately, the man was focused on settling accounts, getting in one last fishing trip, and then planning to “sit in the sun and think things over until it’s time for hospice.”

In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6858-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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