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

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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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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