Vintage Least Heat-Moon, radiant with intelligence and masterful storytelling. (First printing of 250,000; $250,000...

            A coast-to-coast journey by way of great rivers, conducted by a contemporary master of travel writing.

            “I’ve visited every country in the contiguous states except for a handful in the Deep South,” writes William Trogdon, a.k.a. William Least Heat-Moon (Blue Highways, 1983; Prairyerth, 1991).  “Put your finger at random anywhere in [a] United States atlas, and I’ve either been there or within twenty-five miles of it.”  He’d logged hundreds and thousands of road miles, true, but Least Heat-Moon – a skilled sailor and navy veteran – had spent far less time on America’s rivers.  To remedy that, he set out a couple of years ago on a 5,000-mile, four-month journey from Astoria, N.Y., to Astoria, Ore., in the company of an eminently pleasant Sancho Panza whom he calls “Pilotis” and a small crew, his craft a 22-foot-long dory called Nikawa, an Osage Indian word meaning “river horse.”  Least Half-Moon has a lovely, light touch as an instructor, but instruct he does, reminding his readers of the importance of rivers in American history as he travels along the Hudson, Ohio, Missouri, Salmon, and other watercourses.  His asides, the kind of remarks you’d hear in a roadside diner over a steaming cup of bad coffee, are uniformly interesting, Who knew, for instance, that for many years the Mississippi was considered a tributary of the Missouri and not the other way around?  Why does history make so little of Abraham Lincoln’s time working a flatboat along the Ohio River drainage, where he witnessed firsthand the horrors of slavery?  Why was it that until the US Army Corps of Engineers got to tinkering with steam channels, American rivers rarely flooded, rarely caused the catastrophic damage that has shaped the news over the last few years?  Writing with an eye for local color and little-examined history (and sneaking in a pages-long sentence worthy of James Joyce in the bargain), Least Heat-Moon turns in a stirring narrative of a journey into landscapes few have seen – an America that “isn’t a big country but hundreds of smaller ones.”

            Vintage Least Heat-Moon, radiant with intelligence and masterful storytelling.  (First printing of 250,000; $250,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-63626-4

Page Count: 516

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999


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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