Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review of "Sons of Westwood"

Between catching up after vacation and writing a poem a day for the October poetry challenge (shameless plug: you can read them and follow all month long at ) I neglected some of my book reviews.  To get back on track, here is the review of an advance copy I recieved from NetGalley of "Sons of Westwood" - a little different book on John Wooden and UCLA basketball. 

“The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball” by John Matthew Smith

Basketball, College, history, politics, society

September 30, 2013

344 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

John Wooden is considered by many to be the greatest college basketball coach in the history of the game. His run of 10 national championships in 12 years at UCLA is a feat that may never be achieved again. He has had his Pyramid of Success reprinted for not only coaches in sports but many business people use this model to help their businesses succeed. He achieved this during the turbulent social times of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Many of his players considered him to be like a father to them.

So one would figure that this book would be another glowing recap of Wooden’s life and career, right?  Well, it does look favorably on some aspects of those topics.  However, John Matthew Smith’s book also digs deeper into the man’s thoughts and beliefs through quotes, interviews with former players and assistant coaches and research.  This is not to say that Smith shatters all of Wooden’s legacy with embarrassing truths or that he is trying to diminish Wooden’s accomplishments. 

What Smith does address is the aura of “integration” and “racial tolerance” that was part of the UCLA and Wooden image during the 1960’s.  Smith refers many times to the fact that UCLA was used as the model institution to show the racial integration taking place in Southern California when the reality was that it wasn’t any different than other parts of the nation when it came to civil rights and the mounting tension.  

Wooden is part of this discussion as well when some of his lesser known thoughts about civil rights and what young men he is coaching should and shouldn’t be doing with themselves while playing basketball and studying while at UCLA.  It bears repeating that the author is not writing this in any judgmental way, nor is he trying to tarnish the image of either UCLA or Wooden.  He is simply shedding new light during this time.

The book helped me learn a lot of new information about not only the UCLA basketball dynasty but also more about the civil rights movement and some pockets of unrest that one may not know about.   I enjoyed reading this book and would encourage anyone who enjoys basketball or reading about the civil rights movement to pick this up. 

Did I skim?

Pace of the book: 
Excellent – the narrative never was bogged down with unimportant information or overloaded the reader.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  For college basketball fans, readers who are interested in the social changes of the 1960’s or those who like books that tackle controversial topics will enjoy this book.

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