Just the thing for spring training, and a lovely farewell gift from a clear-headed and passionate thinker.

In this sparkling collection, the late paleontologist and popular science essayist (The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox, see above) gathers random writings on one of his many passions: baseball.

All right-thinking people worship the game, of course, and as Gould remarks in his wind-up to these pieces (originally published in venues such as the New York Review of Books, American Heritage, and the Wall Street Journal), intellectuals have taken to it more than to any other sport except, perhaps, boxing—though, he notes, “I don’t for a minute attribute such favoritism to any inherent property of the game itself.” Gould’s own addiction to baseball began in the late 1940s and early ’50s, a glorious era during which all New York kids were baseball nuts, “barring mental deficiency or incomprehensible idiosyncrasy.” After all, he notes, in that more innocent New York, the separate boroughs, city-states of a kind, fielded their own major and minor teams, and a kid didn’t have to look too far to find a hero. (Gould notes that ethnic groups tended to favor their own: among his relatives’ Jewish heroes were Moe Berg, “a mediocre player, but absolutely outstanding character,” Hank Greenberg, and Sandy Koufax.) And in all events “between 1949 and 1964 a New York team played in the World Series in all years but 1959,” with the Yankees alone winning nine pennants. Still, ever the statistician and contrarian, the author names not a New York team for his choice as the greatest squad in modern baseball, but the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who had “an incredible winning percentage of .721” and slaughtered just about every team they met that year. Gould’s assessments of baseball players and teams, books about the game, and the sport itself are smart, well-written, and eminently entertaining, even though devoted fans may find themselves arguing with some of his pronouncements, just as Darwinists were forever taking issue with Gould’s stands on evolution.

Just the thing for spring training, and a lovely farewell gift from a clear-headed and passionate thinker.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05755-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003


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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