The book will likely bore or baffle those not already passionate about baseball, but it will please die-hard fans.

READ REVIEW

OFF SPEED

BASEBALL, PITCHING, AND THE ART OF DECEPTION

Former Los Angeles Times national reporter McDermott (101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist's Quest for Memory, 2010, etc.) changes pace with a book about baseball focused on the craft of pitching.

The author is an avid fan of the Seattle Mariners, so he constructs his taxonomy of pitching around the perfect game pitched by Mariners’ ace Félix Hernández on Aug. 15, 2012. In a variety of asides, the author relates how growing up in small-town Iowa offered the foundation for his romance with baseball. (The author opens with a mention of Field of Dreams.) The chapters often veer off into nostalgia, sometimes featuring searing insights into rural life during the 1950s and ’60s and other times coming off as trite. When McDermott focuses on Hernández’s perfect game, he provides an effective blow-by-blow account. The author relies on the box score from that day, news coverage of the game, and interviews with major leaguers, including Hernández himself. In the sections in which McDermott writes about the evolution of specific pitches—e.g., traditional fastball, two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, cutter, curve, slider, knuckleball, changeup, sinker, screwball, forkball, and the now-illegal spitter (“a pitch to which a foreign substance has been applied, causing the pitch to drop suddenly as it approaches home plate”)—he also offers some brief digressions regarding baseball history in general. At times, McDermott makes pronouncements about the most talented pitchers that might be deemed controversial by some baseball scholars and fans—did Sandy Koufax throw the best fastball and the best curveball ever?—but the narrative is filled with passion and insight into how the game’s measured pace can seem both out of touch with fast-paced contemporary life and a temporary corrective to that fast pace.

The book will likely bore or baffle those not already passionate about baseball, but it will please die-hard fans.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-37942-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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