A sharp little piece of sports journalism—and a fine journey through a spectacular, volcanic tennis career.

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ON BEING JOHN MCENROE

How John McEnroe became a tempest of his own making.

Adams, the literary editor of Britain’s Observer and obviously a keen tennis appreciator, was initially drawn to McEnroe by the beauty of his game and by his canny ability to push, place, angle, and guide the ball by using its own pace. The author was equally intrigued by McEnroe’s real-time emotions and moral outrage, all very publicly on display at Wimbledon in the land of deference, in the most deferential of games. McEnroe was the Tom Paine of tennis, recognizing no one as his social superior and positioning himself for the same status on the court. Though Adams shows a natural descriptive talent for reporting with winning unpretentiousness on various great matches, what he has most fun with here is speculating on the motivations behind McEnroe’s behavioral antics. These admittedly conjectural explanations hit the nail on the head more often than not, sometimes only glancingly, more often dead on. Adams sees both social and psychological angles at play. On the social level, he draws parallels between McEnroe and Margaret Thatcher, in their distain for tradition, their scorched-earth style, and their winner-take-all spirit. He also characterizes McEnroe as the embodiment of Christopher Lasch’s Psychological Man, plagued by anxiety, vague discontents, and a sense of inner emptiness, with a touch of Robert Bly’s perpetual adolescent thrown in. These opinions are all buttressed by the comments of McEnroe himself, one of the rare sports figures who spoke candidly and offered original thoughts at press interviews. Adams also considers issues of money, marriage, and celebrity. But what finally sticks with the reader is McEnroe’s own words: “I was like a compulsive gambler, or an alcoholic. Anger became a powerful habit.”

A sharp little piece of sports journalism—and a fine journey through a spectacular, volcanic tennis career.

Pub Date: April 5, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-8147-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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