Friday, February 21, 2020

Review of "Brave Enough"

It is hard to believe that after nearly seven years of writing reviews, I never had reviewed a book on Nordic skiing before getting this upcoming memoir of a young woman who has won an Olympic medal in the sport.  The book covers much more than just the sport, however and was a very good read.  Here is my review of "Brave Enough."

Title/Author:
“Brave Enough" by Jessie Diggins

Tags:
Nordic skiing, Winter Olympics, memoir

Publish date:
March 10, 2020

Length:
296 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The progress made by women in many sports has been amazing in the past twenty years and one of those sports in which women, particularly American women, have made great strides is Nordic, or cross-country, skiing.  An Olympic medal winner for the United States, Jessie Diggins, writes her memoir in a light, breezy manner that is not only easy to read, it is one that shows the reader every side of this young woman. 

As is typical with any sports memoir, Diggins shares her stories of growing up with her family but with a little more detail than usual.  Growing up in Minnesota, it was fitting that she became active in the winter with her sister and parents and from there, she became involved in skiing early and has kept up a demanding training schedule from seventh grade in the early 2000's to today.

The reader will learn much about the sport of Nordic skiing, particularly the history of the sport for women, where they have made tremendous progress with not only their performances, but also their exposure and publicity.  Diggins talks about her training and her accomplishments in a manner that shows she is still a young woman at heart.  That is one of the more endearing aspects of the book – she writes in the manner that she would talk to someone about her skiing career and her life.

Her life was not all glamor, however, as she spends a good amount of text talking about her dark secret – her struggles to overcome bulimia.  Anyone not familiar with what that disease can do to a person, including noting that it is not just skinny young girls who become afflicted with this disease, will learn a great deal from Diggins' candid account of her struggle and recovery from this eating disorder. She has a great deal of praise for the Emily Program, which was the program that assisted her with recovery.

Diggins shares several amusing and entertaining stories as well as the "dark side" of her disease. One good example is her actions when she and the rest of the American Olympic team was welcomed at the White House in 2014 upon their return from the Sochi Winter Olympics.  She was so overcome with emotion when President Obama shook her hand that she not only cried, but also blurted out she wanted to hug him, something no other athlete had done that day.  Not only did the President hug her, but so did First Lady Michelle Obama immediately afterward, and said a few comforting words to Diggs.  Jessie's account of this moment is just one of many light-hearted and funny tales she tells as well as the seriousness of her sport and her disease.

This book is an entertaining and informative read that anyone who is interested in Nordic skiing, the life of an Olympic athlete or wishes to learn more about eating disorders is encouraged to read.  Jessie was certainly "brave enough" to not only tackle her disorder, but also to become an Olympic medalist.

I wish to thank University of Minnesota Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Review of "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice"

It was interesting to read about athletes not named Jesse Owens who had to endure the same treatment at the 1936 Olympics.  Here is my review of "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice."



Title/Author:
“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics" by Deborah Riley Draper and Travis Thrasher

Tags:
Summer Olympics, history, politics, race

Publish date:
February 4, 2020.

Length:
320 pages

Rating: to
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
Most people know about the story of Jesse Owens and his winning four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin during the height of the Nazi party's hold over Germany.  However, Owens was not the only African-American athlete who won medals or competed in those Olympics. The stories of what was accomplished by the other 18 African American athletes are told in this very good book by Deborah Riley Draper and Travis Thrasher.

While there isn't extensive information available on every one of these athletes, some of the stories tell of an incredible tale of perseverance and competition. The three athletes whose stories are shared in the most detail – Louise Stokes, Tidye Pickett and Ralph Metcalfe – take different paths but all of them, along with the others, share a common theme.  They not only had to wonder what would become of them in Berlin, but also had to fight off prejudice in their home country as well.  A good example of this is the writing about how one of the most prolific white female athletes of the era, Babe Didrikson.  She did not care for Stokes, Pickett or any of the other African American athletes, and one of them, Jean Shiley, shares this observation in the book.

The most incredible of these stories belongs to Stokes and Pickett who had qualified to run in the 1932 Games, held in Los Angeles.  Due to a last minute "technicality", they were not allowed to compete in the Games, instead having to watch white teammates compete.  Metcalfe won a gold medal in the 1936 Games in the 4x100 relay (along with Owens), but he too got this spot by a questionable decision – two American Jewish runners were told the day before the race that they would not compete and Metcalfe was one of the replacement runners.  Both of this are examples of the prejudicial practices these athletes encounter in American and the authors present these in a manner that is easy to read as well as informative.

All of the other African-American athletes are chronicled as well, but not quite as much as the three mentioned above.  Nonetheless, that doesn't diminish their accomplishments and the authors give them as much credit for this if not as much text in the book. This book is one that is well worth the time to read and learn about the hardships and accomplishments of these athletes who are often overlooked in the annals of Olympics history.  

I wish to thank Atria Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review of "Collision Course"

Mainly because they have called four different cities home, the current Sacramento Kings franchise have a colorful history.  The 26 years they called Cincinnati home and were known as the Royals is the subject of this book.  Here is my review of "Collision Course"


Title/Author:
“Collision Course: The Basketball Lived of Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and the Fall of the Cincinnati Royals" by William Cook

Tags:
Basketball, professional, Royals, business, history

Publish date:
November 5, 2019

Length:
335 pages

Rating: to
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
The NBA franchise known today as the Sacramento Kings has a very rich and colorful history.  Some of the most interesting time for the franchise came during the years 1957-1973 when the team was based in Cincinnati and known as the Royals, keeping the name it had when moving from Rochester, New York in 1957.  That portion of the team history, which includes two of the biggest names in basketball history, is told in this book by William Cook.

While the book is supposed to be about the Royals and how those two individuals, Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson, the book covers so much more. Especially when giving the background information on both of the Hall of Fame players.  There is so much written about Cousy's time with the Celtics, I almost forgot that the book was supposed to be about the Cincinnati Royals.  Cook also spends significant space in the book on other related but not necessary information on the history of the league before the Royals moved to the Queen City, the college basketball gambling scandals of the 1950's and the history of the shot clock in the NBA.  All interesting topics and at times, he ties in important Royals figures but all in all, I felt there was a lot of sidetracking from the team.  There are also some editing issues with the final Kindle edition that I read.

Which is a shame, because when the Royals are the main subject, it makes for good, informational reading and how they were really bought just to make sure that the main business of the Jacob brothers, concessions, will still be thriving in another market with more dates.  Cook, through his writing, makes it clear that the Jacobs don't understand the business of running a sports team as well as concessions, as despite having terrific talent such as Robertson and Jerry Lucas.

There were a few seasons when the Royals made a good playoff run, but when those ended and the team started having trouble winning and attracting fans, the team decided to lure Cousy from his college coaching job at Boston College and coach the Royals.  Here, this is where the title of the book starts and Cook does a nice job of capturing the mood of the team, Cousy and the players whom he eventually trades away because he feels that their style of play are not compatible with what he wants.  This leads the team to trade away Lucas and Robertson, whose feeling about the franchise, the city of Cincinnati (where he also played college ball) and Cousy are spilled.  This was too much to overcome and in 1973, the franchise relocated once again to Kansas City.  It should be noted that in both Cincinnati and in Kansas City, the team was considered "regional' and played home games at multiple sites, which in the end was not helpful for attendance or for fans to call the team "local."  

This is a book loaded with useful and entertaining information about a nomadic franchise that has promise, but in the end, it is just an okay read.
                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Collision-Course-Basketball-Robertson-Cincinnati/dp/1620062100/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Friday, February 7, 2020

Review of "Intangibles"

The title of this book caught my eye as an athlete's "intagibles" always seem to be discussed.  However, that isn't really what the book is about, but instead another trait hard to measure - team chemistry.  This book by Joan Ryan is a very good one on the topic.  Here is my review of "Intangibles"

Title/Author:
“Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry" by Joan Ryan

Tags:
Baseball, professional, Giants, science

Publish date:
April 28, 2020

Length:
272 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
"Team chemistry" is a trait that doesn't have a true scientific definition, yet is accepted as a necessary element in a championship team, no matter which sport.  Journalist Joan Ryan decided to look into this trait further to see if there was some scientific truth behind "team chemistry" as well as share stories from players who are credited with elevating this trait.

While Ryan writes about several teams in the book, including the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Athletics, she dedicates most of the material to the San Francisco Giants, a team with who she has worked in the past eight years.  For the scientific aspect, she interviews experts in areas such as neuroscience and psychology and their input lead credence to the thought that good team chemistry is necessary.  However, like the players and managers interviewed, that is not a unanimous consensus and most likely never will be.

However, what makes this book fun to read are the stories by and about players who have been credited with affecting team chemistry whether positive or negative.  Ryan has a label for most of these such as a "super-carrier" – Jonny Gomes, a utility player who found a way to help each of his teammates.  There is the "super-disruptor" – Barry Bonds, and the story he shares with Ryan is worth the time to read no matter one's opinion on his behavior or legitimacy to the home run record. There is a chapter on Mike Krukow, a long time Giant player and broadcaster called "Humm-Baby".  These are just a few examples of the extensive research Ryan put into the project and the finished product is a fun read.

At the end of the book, Ryan does answer two questions about measuring chemistry (can't be the same as sabermetrics) and what is the function.  This review won't give that away, as it is recommended that all baseball fans pick up this book to find out the answers.

I wish to thank Little, Brown and company for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Review of "The 1993 Canadiens"

It's hard to fathom that Canada has not had a team win the championship in its national sport in over 25 years.  The last Canadian team that did, the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, was not the typical Montreal Cup winner and this book tells the tale of many of their lesser-known players.  Here is my review of  "The 1993 Canadiens". 



Title/Author:
“The 1993 Canadiens: Seven Magical Weeks, Unlikely Heroes and Canda's Last Stanley Cup Champions" by K.P. Wee

Tags:
Ice hockey, professional, Canadiens, championship, history

Publish date:
January 26, 2019

Length:
320 pages

Rating: to
3 ½  of 5 stars  (good)

Review:
The last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, the prized trophy that is awarded to the champions in Canada's national sport, was 27 years ago when the Montreal Canadiens surprised the hockey world and took home the Cup.  Stories about that team and some of its players are told in this book by author K.P. Wee.

What sets this book apart from other books focused on one season for a team is that this one talks more about some of the unsung players on that Canadiens team instead of the stars like goaltender Patrick Roy and captain Guy Charboneau.  Instead the book shares some excellent stories about lesser-known players on that team such as Gary Leeman, Gilbert Dionne and Stephan Lebeau.  Each of them had a key play, goal or other performance that helped Montreal continue on its unexpected path to the championship that year.  

Each one of them has a different story in which they had some difficulty in their NHL careers but were able to overcome the adversity to come up big for the team. The most interesting story to me was about Dionne.  Playing in the shadow of his older brother Marcel, who had a Hall of Fame career playing mostly with the Los Angeles Kings, Gilbert scored a winning goal in the second round in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres and also a goal in the third game in the Finals against the Kings.  Leeman had both of these players as linemates and scored a key goal in the opening round against the Quebec Nordiques. It was a great moment for the player who once scored 50 goals in a season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Information like this on these players makes the book very informative. The writing in the book, however, is very repetitive as the same stories about these three players as well as others are repeated throughout the book.  Also, there are some other points that are repeated later in chapters or after the event happened that didn't need to be said again.  As an example, in the conference finals series against the New York Islanders, two Islander players had chances to win the game on a breakaway in overtime in games two and three.  That the Islanders failed to capitalize on those opportunities and Montreal later did were important moments in the Canadiens' march to the Cup.  

However, in the chapter about the conference finals, it was asked multiple time how would the series (a sweep by Montreal) would have been different had the Islanders scored on those plays?  That is a rhetorical question that really didn't need to be asked multiple times.  Other events during the playoff run, such as the famous illegal stick penalty called on the Kings' Marty McSorely during game 2 of the finals, are also repeated often, something that hampers the flow of reading the book.  Which is a shame, because otherwise, this was fun to read about that Canadiens team which may not have been the most talented Montreal squad to win the Cup, but certainly knew how to get the most from every player. Overall, a decent book on Canada's last Cup winner. Three and a half star rating, rounded to four for NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon.

I wish to thank Riverdale Avenue Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                    
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links: