Vivid rodeo life and lore for armchair cowpokes and bowlegged hands alike, by a devoted “kicker with a literary bent.”




A quixotic son of the Southwest hits the road to follow a truly American sport and, incidentally, chase his own history as well.

Stratton (Backyard Brawl, 2002), a journalist based in Austin, Texas, hailing first out of Guthrie, Okla., takes to the rodeo trail (usually leaving wife Luscaine at home) and travels to cowboy circuit venues Prescott, Cheyenne, Oklahoma City, Portland, even Las Vegas. He reports on the small-time ranch-hand contests and the major meets, on the bruising sport of the rough stock and saddle bronc riders, on the baggy pants clowns, the steer wrestlers, cowgirl barrel racers and stock contractors. Here are the professional cowboys, the ass-kickers and assorted feckless adepts of the dirt arena and open air. Here are the fierce animals and the fabled heroes. Here are Tom Mix, Bill Pickett, Yakima Canutt, Freckles Brown and Tornado, the bull he rode in on. Our guide Stratton, shod in his Luccheses, crowned in his Stetson, sketches the history of the sport from the Spanish inheritance and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. There may have been a touch of racism in the past, he indicates. Now, judging from the author’s research, the raw and wild rodeo world is still redolent of the smell of the stockyard along with the tang of human musk. We learn the rules of proper cowboy demeanor and appropriate dress as well as the rules of the various standard events. Certainly, it is show business, traditional and commercial. But it’s more: It’s a primeval, fierce contest between beasts and men, with rough lives and sad endings. Stratton ties his own family history into his account, including an embezzler grandfather, colorful ladies and Cowboy Don, the runaway father he never met. He chases the rodeo and Cowboy Don’s specter, and he catches and hogties them both.

Vivid rodeo life and lore for armchair cowpokes and bowlegged hands alike, by a devoted “kicker with a literary bent.”

Pub Date: May 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-101072-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.


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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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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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