Monday, September 25, 2023

Review of "Degrees of Difficulty"

 Admittedly, I rarely pay attention to gymnastics aside from the years of the Olympics, but this book caught my attention.  I had it sitting on my TBR pile for too long as once I finally picked it up, I enjoyed it.  Here is my review of "Degrees of Difficulty"


Degrees of Difficulty: How Women’s Gymnastics Rose to Prominence and Fell From Grace” by Georgia Cervin 


4 of 5 stars (Very Good)


Unless one is a student of the history of the sport of gymnastics, there is probably little chance that person has watched the sport outside of the Olympics.  That would be a shame for the sport has quite an interesting history and touches many of the social issue challenges that are being addressed today.  This book by Georgia Cervin covers many of these topics as well as some political history as well.

From the Cold War in the 1970s up to the sexual assault cases of Larry Nassar and others, Cervin doesn’t leave any issue relevant to gymnastics untouched.  She does a good job of tying in the sport’s issues to the larger picture of the day.  This is the case whether it was gymnastics being used as a means of diplomacy during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union or whether attempts at making the sport more diverse are successful.  On the latter, Cervin highlights the accomplishments of gymnasts of color such as Dominique Dawes and Simone Biles.

This is a scholarly work and reads as such, with each chapter organized by an introduction, body and conclusion. There are not a lot of personal biographies, but in addition to the aforementioned athletes, Cervin portrays other well known gymnasts such as Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci.  The latter two are especially prominent in Cervin’s discussion about how the sport changed in its scope from artistic ability and the femininity of the gymnasts.  This parallels the expanding role women were playing in all areas of society.

There are also chapters that are strictly about the sport and not with any comparison to social or political issues.  The scandals involving scoring and the “disappearance” of the perfect score of 10 are topics in which Cervin discusses with just as much knowledge and depth as she does the social and political topics.

This book is well worth the time and effort to read.  If one is not well versed in gymnastics, it might take a little more time for the reader to fully understand the topics, but that reader will learn a lot about the interesting history of this sport.

I wish to thank University of Illinois for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.



Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Review of "Coach Prime"

 Remembering Deion Sanders as a baseball and football player made me interested in this book.  I vaguely remembered he had success at an FCS school but didn't remember which one.  Then this college football season started and he's all over the news.  Remembering I had this book, I picked it up and quickly finished it.  Here is my review of "Coach Prime"


Coach Prime: Deion Sanders and the Making of Men” by Jean-Jacques Taylor


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Deion Sanders, aka “Prime Time” in his playing days, currently is taking the college football world by storm with his early success coaching the Colorado Buffaloes to early success in the 2023 season after they won only one game in 2022.  For some, this really isn’t a surprise as this was similar to his experiences at Jackson State.  This book is a great account of Sanders’ last season there as Jean-Jacques Taylor covers a lot of ground in that season.

One important note is that Taylor never calls the coach “Sanders” – throughout the book, he is known as “Coach Prime”.  This is also how he refers to himself as did everyone else on the Jackson State campus.  Even his son Shedeur, who was one of the stars for the Tigers (and currently for the Buffaloes), calls his father that name in the book. But more important than the name is how Coach Prime does his work.

Those who remember Coach Prime in his time as a baseball and football player may be surprised to read about this side of him.  Many felt he was only about himself during his playing days and even if just watching his press conferences, one may come to that same conclusion.  But this book does not focus on that and instead how Coach Prime is not only helping his players succeed on the football field but also in other aspects of life.

If the reader is not familiar with the atmosphere at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) they will be after reading this book.  This was especially important to Coach Prime as he addressed many topics that would be important to a student body in HBCUs. There is even some attention to the few white players on the team.  The team was very structured, had to follow many rules and if you broke them, you were only told “Get Out!” and not a word of protest was uttered.

The stories of these players are the heart of the book and is even better than the football sections which are also very good.  Even if one has never heard of Jackson State, the reader will end up cheering for this team despite already knowing the outcome of their season.  For those who want to learn why Colorado has taken the college football world by storm, this book will be one of the best ways to learn how.

I wish to thank Mariner Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Coach Prime: Deion Sanders and the Making of Men: Taylor, Jean-Jacques: 9780063306912: Books

Monday, September 11, 2023

Review of "Gathering Crowds"

Any reviewer who obtains review copies knows what it feels like to have a large pile of books waiting for review and the age that some of them may be.  I am certainly one of them and this is one of the older ones that I have finally been able to read.  Here is my review of "Gathering Crowds."



Gathering Crowds: Catching Baseball Fever in the New Era of Free Agency” by Paul Hensler


3 of 5 stars (good)


The period between 1975 and 1990 was a very turbulent time for the sport of baseball.  The players were granted freedom to seek employment with new teams after decades of being bound to one club under the reserve clause.  In addition to this, there were labor disputes resulting in player strikes, there was collusion amongst the owners to try to keep salaries down during free agency and there were drug problems.  All of this and more is captured in this all-encompassing book by Paul Hensler.

This opening paragraph says a lot – and that doesn’t even cover all the topics Hensler writes about in the book.  There are also sections on various social issues within the game such as the treatment of female reports and women working in the game, such as female umpires.  There is mention of the first openly gay player and umpire.  There are sections about each commissioner during this period and what issues all three of them – Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth and A. Bartlett Giamatti – had to face during their tenures.  While admirable, trying to cover so much ground in one book meant each topic was highlighted instead of truly covered deeply.

As a result of that, the audience that would be most interested in the book, fans who enjoyed the game during that time, would most likely already be familiar with most of the material.  Ironically, Hensler writes the book to also make the case of how much the game grew in popularity in both paid attendance and television viewing.  On that avenue, he does succeed and does a fine job illustrating that despite all of the labor issues and other negative publicity the game faced, interest did grow.  It should also be noted that part of this could also be attributed to another aspect Hensler illustrates.  That is despite the fears of owners and commissioners that small market teams could not compete with the larger, richer clubs, several of them enjoyed success and won titles.  These included the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.  I used the Orioles here because Hensler did group them with smaller markets.

Overall, this is a decent book and Hensler covers a lot of ground.  It just may be too much ground as readers who know little or nothing about that time period of baseball may gain more knowledge than more ardent fans. 

I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Gathering Crowds: Catching Baseball Fever in the New Era of Free Agency: Hensler, Paul: 9781538132005: Books

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Review of "Feherty"

As one who enjoys reading John Feinstein's work, especially books on golf or college basketball, I was surprised to see this one.  One, I didn't know he wrote another golf book and two, I had never heard of David Feherty until seeing this book in my local library.  So I gave it a shot and it was good.  Here is my review of "Feherty"


Title/Author:  “Feherty: The Remarkably Funny and Tragic Journey of Golf's David Feherty” by John Feinstein

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Sometimes the life of a celebrity, even those who were very popular in their media shows such as television or movies, is not well known.  David Feherty could be considered to be one of those celebrities and this book by best selling sports author John Feinstein uncovers many aspects of the life of this golfer and television personality.

The overriding theme of the book is Feherty’s humor.  Whether it was from his popular show on the Golf Channel (abruptly cancelled in 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic) or from family members such as his second wife Anita, readers will not only learn about his funny side but will be laughing at his many jokes.  A reader will also learn why Feherty uses his humor as he does and what makes him a person that so many will learn to overlook his shortcomings.

Wanting to become a professional golfer even though he was at best good, but not excellent, at the game as a youth, Feherty nonetheless achieved that goal and also had a small amount of success, but where he really made a name for himself in the sport was on television.  Whether it was the aforementioned talk show, his reporting either on the ground with golfers or up in a tower or even as the subject of an interview himself, the personality of Feherty shines through in the book.

While I am a big fan of Feinstein’s books, this one didn’t quite have the same level of excellence that one finds in his other works, especially his golf books. While it is very good as a way for a reader to learn about Feherty, especially those who may not know much about him (as this reviewer), it gets repetitious at times and also seems to throw out opinions at inopportune times.  This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be any political or social commentary or opinions – they are just shown at some awkward times.  This is not to take away from the overall enjoyment one gets from reading the book, just that this one wasn’t up the usual very high standards of a Feinstein book on golf.

Whether or not one watched his show, is a fan of golf, or just wants to read about a very interesting character, this book is one to pick up.

Link: Feherty: The Remarkably Funny and Tragic Journey of Golf's David Feherty - Kindle edition by Feinstein, John. Health, Fitness & Dieting Kindle eBooks @