Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Review of "The Formula"

While NASCAR is my favorite motorsport, I do like to watch an occasional Formula 1 race and I LOVE to read anything I can on it.  This book is one reason why F1 books are so good - this one deals mostly with the business side and it's fantastic.  Here is my review of "The Formula."


The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 Into the World’s Fastest-Growing Sport” by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  Formula 1 racing has long been a staple of the sports environment in Europe for several decades.  However, it had trouble attracting fans in the United States until a Netflix show about the sport called “Drive to Survive” was shown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.  How the sport got to that point, and what has taken place since to make it grow as fast as the subtitle suggests, is documented in this excellent book by Wall Street Journal writers Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg.


This book, as the authors state in the beginning, is not a detailed history of the sport in which race results are chronicled, drivers and crews are not provided detailed biographies and details about season results are not recapped here.  Instead, this book provides many excellent stories and illustrations on the business side of the sport from its early history to its current popularity that has grown from the Netflix exposure.

While biographies are not a main source of information in this book, the authors do a terrific job of portraying some of the biggest names in the sport, both on the business side and some of its most famous drivers.  For the latter, there is an entire chapter on Michael Schumacher, considered by some to be the greatest driver in the history of F1.  A good portrait of the best driver in the 1990’s, Ayrton Senna is also done well.  It is short mainly because Senna died in a 1994 crash.  Then there are the two current superstars, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Their personalities and excellence on the road are both well-written and compelling reading.

As good as these are, however, the best parts of the book are when Robinson and Clegg are writing about the business side of the sport, complete with complex rule changes, back-room dealings, television contracts that are written mainly to only line the pockets of the leaders and so much more.  Personalities here are described in even better prose than described above on the drivers.  Enzo Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone and Colin Chapman are just three of the many personalities that make F1 history fascinating, and the authors do a fantastic job of describing their influence on the sport.

The sport has also had various controversies through the years and some of the most bizarre ones are covered here as well.  One that particularly caught my interest was “Spygate.” NFL fans may know about their own “Spygate” in which Bill Belichick was recording practice sessions of another team. That Spygate is mild compared to F1’s version.  In that, a disgruntled engineer from Team Ferrari handed over documents to the McLaren engineering team that covered everything – something that nothing in American sports can compare to.  Including the fines – the Patriots’ fine from the NFL is peanuts compared to what came down from F1 officials.  There are other incidents, including a deliberate crash by a mediocre driver to allow his teammate to win a championship, that are mind-boggling and fantastic reading.

No matter your interest in F1, or even motorsports, this is a book that anyone will enjoy reading.  Just like how Liberty Media, the latest owners of the F1 brand, made fans out of people who have never watched race thanks to a popular streaming show, this book may make a reader take interest in a sport that they may never have had any knowledge about before opening to the first page.  

I wish to thank Mariner Books for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses, and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 into the World's Fastest-Growing Sport: 9780063318625: Robinson, Joshua, Clegg, Jonathan: Books

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review of "The Fenway Effect"

This is an upcoming book by a well-known MSNBC reporter about the cultural influence of the Boston Red Sox and even though I knew that the Red Sox were beloved by many, I didn't realize just how many connections in non-baseball areas the team had.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the book as well. 



The Fenway Effect: A Cultural History of the Boston Red Sox” by David Krell


4 ½ of 5 stars (Very Good)

Review:  The Boston Red Sox have a special place in the hearts of many New Englanders.  Even those who don’t follow baseball closely seem to have their emotions tied together with the ups and downs of the area’s baseball team. This book by David Krell explores some of those connections and why the Red Sox are an important part of the fabric of Boston.

The book explores many different aspects of this grip that the team has on the culture of the area.  Not only are the important baseball games covered (Game Six of the 1975 World Series, Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the “Boston Strong” game after the Boston Marathon bombing where David Ortiz gave his famous speech) but connections in the community and in other forms of entertainment are discussed as well.  For the latter, examples of this is the television show “Cheers” and it’s main character Sam Malone who was a pitcher for the Red Sox before opening his bar and “Fever Pitch”, the romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, who plays a die-hard Red Sox fan.

Something that is worth noting is that topics that originated from a source other than the Red Sox are also included and proper credit, when due, is given. The best example is one of my favorite topics in the book, the Jimmy Fund. For those who don’t know about it, it is a very popular fundraiser for research into children’s cancer.  It was inspired by a child cancer patient in 1948 and the “Jimmy” name is fictional, although the real name of the child is later revealed. But while this charity is well-connected with the Red Sox and legendary Red Sox player Ted Williams often visited patients without publicity, this was not originally a Red Sox staple.  “Jimmy” expressed a desire to see his favorite baseball player, Billy Southworth.  At the time, he was the manager of the Boston Braves, so the Jimmy Fund was started by the Braves.  There are other connections to the Braves and plenty of mentions of the other professional sports teams in Boston.

The fan experience should also be included in this book and it covers many different areas of the region and various ages.  This was my only disappointment with the book, although not because they were included.  Indeed, this book would be incomplete without hearing from people on why the Red Sox are so important.  But reading them in one chapter as they were organized felt like they were staring to sound the same.  Of course, they were not – and for other Red Sox fans, this might resonate more greatly, but for me, they just started to feel like the same story but told in different ways.

That doesn’t take away anything from the book as it is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and it is complete for everything from the Red Sox ballpark before Fenway Park (Huntington Avenue Grounds) to the iconic Citgo sign seen over the Green Monster, this book is one that any baseball fan who understands what the Red Sox mean to the New England region will want to read.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: The Fenway Effect: A Cultural History of the Boston Red Sox: Krell, David: 9781496232335: Amazon.com: Books


Friday, March 15, 2024

Review of "Charlie Hustle"

Sometimes it's hard to find a book that is fair and complete when it is about a controversial person or event, but this book on Pete Rose fits that perfectly.  Here is my review of "Charlie Hustle." 


Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose and the Last Glory Days of Baseball” by Keith O’Brien


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Pete Rose is one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history.  Even people who have never followed the game but know about him through the news about his gambling, conviction on tax evasion and his banishment from baseball will have an opinion on him.  Whatever one’s opinion is about Rose, it is unlikely to change, even after reading this excellent biography of Rose by Keith O’Brien.

Before getting to all the excellent aspects of the book, I will the two criticisms I have out of the way.  One is a passage about how baseball changed, for the worse in O’Brien’s view, during the steroid era after Rose was banished from the game in 1989.  That fits the subtitle of this book and is an opinion held by many but it just felt out of place – not only where it was placed in the book but by being included at all.  Rose was never believed to use steroids so why is that included in a book on him?

The other detail that was a negative is that in later passages, when mentioning the number of children Rose had, it always stated four – the four he had with his two wives.  There was another daughter who Rose fathered with one of his mistresses, but aside from when she was little, she is ignored and forgotten the rest of the book.  For the record, Pete Rose fathered five children, not four.

With that out of the way, time to talk about all of the good things about this book and there are plenty.  The first is that O’Brien was able to get many quotes, stories and pieces of information from Rose himself.  For a such a controversial figure, it was remarkable that the author was able to glean this much from Rose and it made for more authenticity. Now, whether one believes that Rose is lying, as he did in many of his public statements about his gambling, that doesn’t really matter as the reader will be getting the story from the person himself.

About that gambling – the detail with which O’Brien writes about Rose’s betting is what truly shines in this book.  As many know, Rose gambled on more than just baseball.  It was interesting to read about Rose’s “triple header” days in Florida during spring training.  After the games, he would often head to the dog races, the horse races and the jai alai centers for placing bets. This would often take place with some characters who were less than desirable.  This became known to many who befriended Rose through baseball and they had concerns.  Teammates, managers and front office personnel alike all had questions about Rose’s acquaintances, but because of his success on the field, this wasn’t an issue for awhile.

That is until the FBI and the Department of Justice started investigating some of those acquaintances such as Tommy Gioiosa and Ron Peters.  The latter’s testimony to the agents working for these agencies was the most damaging and O’Brien brings their stories to life in riveting pages.  The same goes for the investigation by John Dowd for Major League Baseball and his report.  The reader will think that they are right there in the room with Dowd and the baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti when reading about this investigation and the banishment of Rose from the game.

These are just a few of the excellent topics covered in this book.  I haven’t even mentioned anything about O’Brien’s writing about Rose’s accomplishments on the field.  The beginning of the book that describes the night when Rose became the all-time leader in hits will give you an idea of how he covers that aspect of Rose as well – which is excellent.

 No matter how one feels about Rose as a person or whether or not he belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame, one who cares at all about him or baseball should read this book.  It deals with a very controversial baseball figure fairly and leaves the reader to make the final judgement for themselves.

 I was provided a review copy via NetGalley and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 Link: Amazon.com: Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose, and the Last Glory Days of Baseball: 9780593317372: O'Brien, Keith: Books


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review of "The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis"

Train rides are always the best time for me to catch up on reading and on my recent travels to Washington, DC via train, that gave me that opportunity.  One of the older books on my TBR pile was this one on a tennis player whom I never heard of, but had a story that should be told - and it was by her granddaughter. 


The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis” by Felice Hardy


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  The story of Liesl Herbst, as told by her granddaughter Felice Hardy in this family memoir, is one that is at times compelling, at times inspiring but for the most part tragic.  Liesl came from a Jewish family in Vienna with some wealth – but being Jewish in a country so close to Germany, there were rumblings of trouble when the Nazis rose to power.  Before this however, Liesl wanted to channel her athletic talent into tennis and follow her idol, Suzanne Lenglen into the sport. 

Through extensive research (by herself and other researchers in Austria and Czechoslovakia), Hardy is able to not only find out about her grandmother’s tennis career but is also able to describe in great detail about the escape from Austria that Liesl and her daughter Dorli (Hardy’s mother) were able to accomplish and settle in London.  Because Liesl was a former tennis champion in Austria, she wanted to compete again and was able to do so at Wimbledon.  She and Dorli became the only mother/daughter team to compete at Wimbledon and while they may not have advanced far in the tournament, it was a testament to their athletic ability and their determination in both athletics and survival.

However, this book is not all positive.  The rest of the family members did not escape the Nazis and all perished at various points during their imprisonment.  These passages, which were more of the book than Liesl’s tennis accomplishments, were difficult to read, but really were necessary for both the reader and the author.  Hardy should be commended for remembering all members of her family, not just her famous grandmother.

There are many conversations that are quoted in the book and given the time frame and lack of ability to verify these from survivors, one must consider these as conversations that Hardy believed these people would have had when either making their escapes or being captured. The journey of David, Liesl’s husband, to London after sending his wife and daughter there almost reads like a survivalist story.  While this is not to question any of the authenticity of this and other similar accounts, it does appear that some of this is what Hardy believes her family members did and said. However, that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the book.  It is one that is a very good read and while tennis is a part of the story, the takeaway after reading is how much suffering people endured at the hands of the Nazi party during the Holocaust.

I was provided a review copy via NetGalley and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: The Tennis Champion Who Escaped the Nazis: From Vienna to Wimbledon, one family’s struggle to survive and win: 9781802471199: Hardy, Felice: Books



Sunday, March 10, 2024

Review of "This Never Happened"

The timing for reading this book was very good as it was a fictional story based on the accounts of a previously reviewed book here on the Gas and Flame men in World War I.  While this is fiction and does not refute any of the information from the non-fiction book, but the story does make one wonder.  Here is my review of "This Never Happened."


This Never Happened: The Mystery Behind the Death of Christy Mathewson” by J. D. Manheim


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  It is well known that one of the original members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, pitcher Christy Mathewson, died of tuberculosis that was a result of exposure to poisonous gases during World War I.  This novel by J.D. Manehim, a fictional work based on this unfortunate incident, raises the question of whether the exposure was during the actual fighting in France soon before the war ended or whether this was caused by an incident while in training.

This training was in a special division called the Gas and Flame Men.  This division had many famous baseball personalities.  In addition to Mathewson, the Gas and Flame Men included Ty Cobb, Branch Rickey and Frank Chance just to name a few.  The story raises the question of why were these men chose for this duty, especially given the dangerous nature of working with poisonous gases. 

However, the story of the division is only part of the novel.  A pair of men stumble across documents that a relative of one of them left about these men.  The documents were written by a fictional baseball writer, J.T. Willet who was one of the early baseball writers and one whose work for the Sporting News was so good that was part of the reason that the Sporting News was called the “Bible of Baseball.”  Willet found out what “really” happened through interviews with Mathewson’s widow, Cobb and other very important people who knew was supposedly really happened.  Willet’s story, the story of the documents and what became of them and the war stories of the baseball people all tie together well and the ending does make one wonder what really happened.

The book does take awhile to get going and most of the characters are not developed in great detail, but those minor issues are overcome by a riveting story that any reader interested in baseball or World War I will truly enjoy.

I was provided a review copy and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Amazon.com: This Never Happened: The Mystery Behind the Death of Christy Mathewson (The Deadball Files): 9798888190821: Manheim, J.B.: Books

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Review of "The Color of Everything"

 This was a different type of book on mountain climbing.  While it did have an expedition on one of the summits I often read about, Mt. Everest, this was very different from other climbing books I have read.  Here is my review of "The Color of Everything." 


The Color of Everything: A Journey to Quiet the Chaos Within” by Cory Richards



4 of 5 stars (very good)


Cory Richards is known by some as an award-winning photographer for National Geographic.  Others know him for being the first American to climb an 8000 meter mountain (Everest) during the winter. No matter how one knows of him, or doesn’t, his memoir is one that would interest many readers.

This is because the topics covered in his book are numerous: mountaineering, bipolar disease (and mental health in general), loss, and reflection.  Given that this review is for a sports book site, the mountaineering aspect was my attraction to the book.  There isn’t a lot of technical jargon or stories from base camps like there are in other climbing books I have read.  But these sections are satisfying because the reader will get to know the emotions of not only Richards, but his climbing partners as well.  There is some climbing vocabulary and there are stories of the physical dangers as well, but the climbing aspect is more mental than physical.

That is important to this book and very appropriate since more than a book on sport, it is more a book on mental health.  Richards documents his time spent in institutions, the addictions he was suffering and the toll these took on his relationships and his physical condition.  There are stories of his mental health issues all through his life – from childhood to now.  I found that while some of this material seemed choppy and scattered about for no particular reason (especially Part III, the last section of the book), it all really comes together to paint a complex picture of a brilliant but complex man. 

I wish to thank Random House for providing a review copy of the book.  The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: The Color of Everything: A Journey to Quiet the Chaos Within: Richards, Cory: 9780593596791: Amazon.com: Books