A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.

The author of the classic The Boys of Summer (1972) and numerous other titles about the national pastime returns with a personal account of the fracturing of the racial barrier in Major League Baseball.

Kahn (Into My Own: The Remarkable People and Events that Shaped a Life, 2006, etc.), born in 1927 (the heyday of the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row), a journalist during the Branch Rickey/Jackie Robinson era, knew the principals personally. Numerous times throughout this important narrative, he alludes to his experiences with them during and after their active days in baseball. (In the early 1950s, Robinson, with Kahn’s participation, launched a short-lived publication, Our Sports, which focused on black athletes.) Kahn shows all the ugliness of the pre-Robinson era and the ugliness of many of the Hall of Famers’ experiences while with the Dodgers, especially during spring training travels in the Jim Crow South. Kahn names names—those players and others associated with the team who did not welcome Robinson (Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo) and those who were more welcoming (Eddie Stanky). Most came around, especially when Robinson’s myriad talents contributed to Dodger success. Kahn waxes lyrical in several places about Robinson’s athletic gifts, and he also has some harsh words for journalist Dick Young, whose writing he admired but whose views he often found offensive. But Kahn has almost nothing but kind words for Rickey, who orchestrated the signing and development of Robinson but who, later, was eased out of the Dodger organization by Walter O’Malley—who does not come off as an admirable character in this compelling drama. Along the way, the author offers much cultural and diamond history—the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (he quotes from The Great Gatsby), the tenure of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the racial situation in Canada, where Robinson began his Dodger career.

A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62336-297-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014


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


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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