A fascinating sports study with much wider-reaching application, featuring page-turning tales of personal triumph and cogent...



From the rugby pitch to the baseball diamond, a riveting analysis of greatness in sport.

Following the end of one of the greatest streaks in history, the Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 111 consecutive wins, comes a timely study of what made sports’ most successful teams so dominant. Walker (Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe, 2006), the founding editor of the Wall Street Journal’s daily sports coverage, admits that what propelled him into “this all-consuming project” was witnessing the “transformation” of the 2004 Boston Red Sox “from a half-assed bunch of jokers to legitimate contenders,” as well as his lifelong “ache to be part of a great team.” Diligently establishing the parameters of what sports he would and would not consider and the objective criteria used to analyze a team’s success, Walker arrived at a short list of “the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent of teams” from across the globe since the 1880s. In this illustrious company, the author includes recognizable groups such as the 1949-1953 New York Yankees, the only team in history to win the World Series five consecutive times, but also some unknown to U.S. readers—e.g., Espectaculares Morenas del Caribe (1991-2000) from Cuba, who won “every major women’s international volleyball tournament for ten straight years.” Though having had no expectation of finding a common denominator when he began scrutinizing what enabled these disparate paragons of victory to dominate their respective sports, Walker reached an intriguing conclusion: “the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it”—not the coach, the management, a franchise’s wealth, or overall talent. Combining statistics with epic stories from the playing field, Walker compellingly makes his case that captains possessing traits not usually assumed as shared among leaders are what make empires.

A fascinating sports study with much wider-reaching application, featuring page-turning tales of personal triumph and cogent analysis.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9719-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.


NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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