Amiable on the surface, tough-minded beneath, with a fan’s fervor at the core.

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ME AND HANK

A BOY AND HIS HERO, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

A highly personal account of one man’s boyhood admiration for Hank Aaron, and a reevaluation of his feelings from adult perspective.

As a Milwaukee schoolboy Tolan followed his hometown Braves through seasonal ups and downs and remained loyal even when the franchise moved to Atlanta. By radio he monitored Aaron’s pursuit of the career home-run record and learned that the ballplayer had been receiving threats; he wrote a letter of support and received a personally signed letter of thanks in return. Twenty-five years later, as the anniversary of Aaron’s achievement approached, Tolan (now a radio producer) used the occasion to examine more closely the role of racism in Aaron’s career, in baseball itself, and in American society. He interviewed characters ranging from Aaron’s daughter and wife to the street people living outside Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. He spoke to politicians and civil-rights leaders like Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, to baseball commissioners, managers, Hall-of-Famers, and fanatics; he traveled to Cooperstown (where he was shocked by the minimal space allotted to Aaron’s achievements) and met with the record-holder himself. Tolan uses a loose, peripatetic tone and style; Aaron is never far from the center of the story (which began as an NPR project), but this isn’t just about the ballplayer or his achievement. To an extent, it’s one long double-edged argument for the primacy of Aaron’s achievement as an athlete and a black man, as well as for the deeper understanding of race in American society and history, but Tolan is honest and tenacious without being strident. Reading him is like listening to someone argue a point you already agree on—yet between the personal and the reportorial (and editorial) stretches there are moments of high drama and poignant discovery.

Amiable on the surface, tough-minded beneath, with a fan’s fervor at the core.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-87130-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich...

PERSIMMON WIND

A MARTIAL ARTIST'S JOURNEY IN JAPAN

A reflective and entertaining journey through Japan, as the author seeks to reconnect with his martial arts sensei.

Lowry is a student of koryu (not to be confused with kendo), a style of Japanese classical swordsmanship. Koryu is a medieval art, like Noh and the tea ceremony, a style of combat born on the battlefield–but more importantly, it’s a way to address the world (though an esoteric one: Lowry may well be the only American practicing the art in the United States). Indeed, present-day practitioners refrain from exercising its fatal possibilities. Lowry’s sensei left the U.S. to return to Japan, urging Lowry to follow. Though his life headed in a different direction, he never forgot his training–when the time was ripe, he journeyed to Japan to join his sensei. The narrative revolves around this pivotal decision, and it provides a warm center from which the author expounds on such topics as the glories of a Japanese bath; the evolution of the Samurai caste; the peculiarities of Japanese landscape architecture; the elements of proper sandal-tying; the custom of the premarital shenanigans called yobai; and the teachings of mikkyo Buddhism. He also includes the vital story of the sword–what it reveals about Japanese life and technology, social structure and aesthetic values, etiquette, apprenticeship and the process of education. Lowry’s seriousness lends an earnest cast to the proceedings, but he’s not without a sense of humor–commenting upon his accomplished slurping of noodles, a friend’s wife notes, “He really sucks!”

A broad and deep look at Japan’s medieval referents, and a capable illustration of a martial art form steeped in rich tradition.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-890536-10-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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