Although heartwarming, the abrupt ending leaves the reader a little shortchanged, since the authors do not reveal if the...

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THE DUKE OF HAVANA

BASEBALL, CUBA, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM

Yankee pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernández is the focal point of this informative, behind-the-scenes look at the role of baseball in US-Cuban relations.

Ever since the 1991 defection of pitcher René Arocha, many fellow Cuban athletes have followed suit, the most well known being El Duque and his younger half brother Lívan Hernandez. El Duque is portrayed in mostly glowing fashion, both as a talent and as a noble man who never lost faith that he would pitch again (even after Cuban baseball officials, for political reasons, forbade the national star to play). His ultimate escape on a raft in treacherous waters is detailed in a matter-of-fact and undramatic way. The authors—both reporters—do a better job providing a comprehensive picture of Cuban life under Castro, showing the country's fascination with baseball (both playing and watching), and revealing the conflict between stalwart party men and players willing to risk everything to have a chance at freedom and riches. The most riveting character in the book is actually not El Duque, but the revolutionary sports agent José “Joe” Cubas, who becomes an unofficial representative for US Major League teams willing to participate in the corrupt process of tapping Cuban talent. Born in the US to parents who, as honeymooners, ended up staying in Miami because of Castro’s revolution, Cubas (called “the Great Liberator” by 60 Minutes) is the intelligent, ruthless, and mercenary master at engineering the escapes and eventual signings of the defecting players. The story basically ends with the reunion between El Duque and his family during the 1998 World Series.

Although heartwarming, the abrupt ending leaves the reader a little shortchanged, since the authors do not reveal if the most successful defector has any lingering homesickness or loyalty to Cuba—an intriguing premise only hinted at in the epilogue.

Pub Date: March 23, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50345-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

DUMB LUCK AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

The latest collection of interrelated essays by the veteran fishing writer.

As in his previous books—from The View From Rat Lake through All Fishermen Are Liars—Gierach hones in on the ups and downs of fishing, and those looking for how-to tips will find plenty here on rods, flies, guides, streams, and pretty much everything else that informs the fishing life. It is the everything else that has earned Gierach the following of fellow writers and legions of readers who may not even fish but are drawn to his musings on community, culture, the natural world, and the seasons of life. In one representatively poetic passage, he writes, “it was a chilly fall afternoon with the leaves changing, the current whispering, and a pale moon in a daytime sky. The river seemed inscrutable, but alive with possibility.” Gierach writes about both patience and process, and he describes the long spells between catches as the fisherman’s equivalent of writer’s block. Even when catching fish is the point, it almost seems beside the point (anglers will understand that sentiment): At the end of one essay, he writes, “I was cold, bored, hungry, and fishless, but there was still nowhere else I’d have rather been—something anyone who fishes will understand.” Most readers will be profoundly moved by the meditation on mortality within the blandly titled “Up in Michigan,” a character study of a man dying of cancer. Though the author had known and been fishing with him for three decades, his reticence kept anyone from knowing him too well. Still, writes Gierach, “I came to think of [his] glancing pronouncements as Michigan haiku: brief, no more than obliquely revealing, and oddly beautiful.” Ultimately, the man was focused on settling accounts, getting in one last fishing trip, and then planning to “sit in the sun and think things over until it’s time for hospice.”

In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6858-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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