Fans of MLS will appreciate West’s perspective, and those who are not yet fans may be convinced by this brief, worthwhile...

THE UNITED STATES OF SOCCER

MLS AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN SOCCER FANDOM

A perfectly fine book about an adequate soccer league.

Compared to other leagues in Europe, Central and South America, and other regions of the globe, Major League Soccer, which emerged after the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, is fairly mediocre, certainly not one of the top 10 leagues in the world. Yet it has also improved on a steady trajectory, has become a port of last call for elite players from European and other leagues looking for a soft cushion into retirement, and has been partially responsible for a demonstrable rise in both the consistent quality of the U.S. Men’s National Team and in American fan support for the sport. Veteran soccer journalist West tells the intertwined story of the rise of MLS and its fan base in this reasonably crisp narrative. The author really knows the history and landscape of American soccer, and he conveys it well. Though his goal is not to advocate for MLS, he believes it warrants increasing respect, even if it does not match the level of play of the world’s elite leagues. West seeks to place MLS within a larger context of the development of soccer as a legitimate element of the American sporting landscape. The author is especially strong at addressing the politics, economics, and fan culture that have emerged as MLS has gone from its tentative inaugural steps to a solid second-tier presence in American sports. But it is perhaps telling that some of the least compelling parts of the book involve the game on the pitch, and the assertion that West makes in the last words of the book—that MLS “seems positioned to remain intact and supported”—is underwhelming.

Fans of MLS will appreciate West’s perspective, and those who are not yet fans may be convinced by this brief, worthwhile history.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1241-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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