A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.

RICKEY & ROBINSON

THE TRUE, UNTOLD STORY OF THE INTEGRATION OF BASEBALL

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 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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