Book Review: Eight World Cups by George Vecsey


Author: George Vecsey
TitleEight World Cups
Publication Info: Times Books (May 13, 2014)
ISBN: 9780805098488
Summary/Review:

Vecsey, a sportswriter for The New York Times, writes a series of essays and memories of international soccer dating back to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, tying it in with his own love of the game back to his childhood.  The title is a misnomer, because Vecsey writes about Women’s World Cups and Olympic games among other competitions, but the eight men’s World Cup finals he attends from 1982 to 2010 are the core of the book. In addition to some lovely writing describing the games and controversies of the each World Cup, Vecsey gives a sense of the host nation where he and his wife generally set a up a home base for a month.  He writes about the great players of each era from Diego Maradona to Zinedine Zidane.  A major focus is the rise of the United States men’s team from a non-entity to one that regular qualifies for the World Cup and is competitive.  Vecsey also explores the seamy underside of FIFA and CONFACAF with the greed and corruption that runs alongside the beautiful game.  All in all, this is a nice American take on World Cup football from a personal perspective.

Recommended booksThe Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Goooal! a Celebration of Soccer by Andres Cantor
Rating: ****

Book Review: Distant Corners by David Wangerin


Author: David Wangerin
Title Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes
Publication Info:  Temple University Press (2011)
ISBN:  1439906300
Summary/Review:

A sequel of sorts to Soccer in a Football World, Wangerin’s history of soccer in the United States, this book is a series of essays focusing on particular places and times in American history when soccer flourished.  If there’s a unifying theme of book is the inevitable quote from a contemporary to the effect that soccer’s rise to popularity in the United States is just around the corner.  The negative that can be taken from this is that they were all wrong as soccer remains a niche sport in the country, but the positive is that it shows just how much of a history of the game there is in the United States.  Wangerin explores this historical periods in search of a distinct American style of play that can be built upon as the game continues to grow in the US.  

Topics covered by the essays include:

  • tours of the US by Pilgrims, Corinthians, and other English teams to attempt to popularize association football at a time when violence and deaths were sullying gridiron football in the early 1900s.
  • The creation of a national federation (now the USSF) and the National Challenge Cup (now the US Open Cup).
  • Thomas Cahill, the man who, under better circumstances, would be remembered as the father of American soccer.
  • The success of Penn State’s soccer team in the Depression Era under the leadership of Bill Jeffrey.
  • Leagues in St. Louis create a distinctive St. Louis style of play
  • The Oakland Clippers, champions of the renegade NPSL in 1967 and one of the top teams in the first year of the NASL in 1968, flounder in their attempt to play outside the league against top international competition.
  • 1979, the pivotal year of the NASL.

Recommended books: Once in a Lifetime by Gavim Newsham and The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill
Rating: ***1/2

 

Book Review: The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne


Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry 
Publication Info:   New York : Crown, c2013.
ISBN: 9780770436889

Summary/Review: 

I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass.  I forgot that alcohol is a depressant.  The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother.  He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking.  A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described.  While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing.  And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.

Rating: **

Recommended BooksA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz

 

Book Review: Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia


Author:Mike Birbiglia
TitleSleepwalk With Me 
Publication Info: New York : Simon & Schuster, c2010.
ISBN: 9781439157992
Summary/Review:  Stand-up comedian,  monologist, and This American Life regular Mike Birbiglia writes about his life and sleepwalking issues in this collection of autobiographical essays.  In the early going, I was disappointed because these were the same exact stories I’ve heard before but lacking the same resonance they have when you hear Birbilia’s voice.  Later on, the book improves as the written form of his storytelling gets better for less familiar stories.  If you like Birbiglia’s work in stand-up, storytelling, or even his upcoming movie you might like this book.  On the other hand, he may just work better in those other media and this book is extraneous.

Favorite Passages:

p. 102 – “Data entry is a fascinating job where you .. type … in … data….that’s been…written on something else. You can press tab and jump from field to field, and you need to remember to capitalize proper nouns like people’s names and their streets. The first ten minutes of data entry fly by, because you’re really getting the hang of it. The remaining seven hours and fifty minutes go a lot more slowly, because you glance at the clock after you finish every entry. Data entry is the white-collar equivalent of potato peeling.”

Recommended booksNerd Do Well by Simon Pegg and Bossypants by Tina Fey.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne


Author: David Byrne
Title: Bicycle Diaries
Publication Info: New York : Viking, c2009.
ISBN:  9780670021147
Summary/Review:

David Byrne has a folding bike and takes it with him on his travels around the world.  This book collects his ruminations from cycling through many great cities.  Sometimes they are observations on what he sees from the saddle, but often they ponder more deeply place of the city from architecture to culture to politics.  He is admittedly didactic at times, but he often makes a good point.  Knowing Byrne as the singer/songwriter for Talking Heads, I found his narrative voice not at all what I expected, sometimes a little crude, sometimes a little lofty, but usually compelling.  This is a good book for learning about the necessary changes that need to be made to our cities to survive an uncertain future.

Politics of Happiness

Favorite Passages:

My generation makes fun of the suburbs and the shopping malls, the TV commercials and the sitcoms that we grew up with — but they’re part of us too.  So our ironic view is leavened with something like love. Though we couldn’t wait to get out of these places they are something like comfort food for us.  Having come from those completely uncool places we are not and can never be urban sophisticates we read about, and neither are we rural specimens — stoic, self-sufficient, and relaxed — at ease and comfortable in the wild.  These suburbs, where so many of us spent our formative years, still push emotional buttons for us; they’re both attractive and deeply disturbing. – p. 9

These [modern] buildings represent the triumph of both the cult of capitalism and the cult of Marxist materialism.  Opposing systems have paradoxically achieved more or less the same aesthetic result.  Diverging paths converge.  The gods of reason triumph over beauty, whimsy, and animal instincts and our innate aesthetic sense — if one believes that people have such a thing.  We associate these latter qualities with either peasants — the unsophisticated, who don’t know any better than to build crooked walls and add peculiar little decorative touches — or royalty and the upper classes — our despicable former rulers with their frilly palaces, whom we can now view, in this modern world, as equals, at least on some imaginary or theoretical level. – p. 79

I’m in my midfifties, so I can testify that biking as a way of getting around is  not something only for the young and energetic.  You don’t really need the spandex, and unless you want it to be, biking is not necessarily all the strenous.  It’s the liberating feeling — the physical and psychological sensation — that is more persuasive than any practical argument.  Seeing things from a point of view that is close enough to pedestrians, vendors, and storefronts combined with getting around in a way that doesn’t feel completely divorced from the life that occurs on the streets is pure pleasure.  Observing and engaging in a city’s life — even for a reticent and often shy person like me — is one of life’s great joys.  Being a social creature — it is part of what it means to be human. – p. 292

Recommended books: Pedal Power by J. Harry Wray and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Rating: ***

Book Review: Do It Anyway by Courtney E. Martin


Author: Courtney E. Martin
Title: Do it anyway : the next generation of activists
Publication Info: Boston : Beacon Press, c2010.
ISBN:

Summary/Review:

Martin (who I didn’t discover until after reading the book is an editor for one of my favorite blogs Feministing.com) interviews and tells the stories of 8 people under the age of 35 who are contributing to their communities as activists.  Martin takes the approach that this generation has been told from generation that they need to “save the world” but are often criticized for being aloof and narcissistic.  Through these essays Martin shows that while they can’t “save the world” there are in fact many young people who are far from self-centered.

These include:

  • Rachel Corrie, a peace activist killed by a bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the Israelis  from destroying a Palestinian home.  Martin goes beyond the sensationalist headlines to tell the story of Corrie’s hopes for transformation through peace.
  • Raul Diaz, a  social worker who helps young men reenter society after prison sentence as part of his work with Homeboy Industries.  Diaz lives a life shattered by gang violence and persists despite the deaths of many friends and mentees.
  • Maricela Guzman is an activist for veterans and against the military culture that contributed to her being raped by an officer and failing to get the support she needed after the attack.  A highlight of this chapter is when Martin brings together Diaz and Guzman together to share common experiences of trauma and violence.
  • Emily Abt who found her voice as an activist through making documentary and dramatic films through Pureland Pictures.
  • Nia Martin-Robinson, an environmental justice advocate, who carries on her family’s activist tradition by fighting pollution’s inordinate damage on communities of poor and people of color (as well as giving a minority voice often shunned by the green movement).
  • Tyrone Boucher, who chose to establish a philanthropy to give away his trust fund and fight for social justice outside the confines of the capitalist system.
  • Rosario Dawson, an actress who dedicates much of her time away from the set to various charities and social causes.
  • Dena Simmons, a teacher who grew up in the Bronx and remains as an inspirational teacher to her middle school students.

These are all inspiring stories of people doing good in their communities tied together by their common respect for humanity, perseverance, and big dreams with strategic visions.  This is a good book to read if you want to read something positive about people in our world today.

Recommended books: Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and From the pews in the back : young women and Catholicism by Kate Dugan.
Rating:

Book Review: The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood


Author:Gordon S. Wood
Title: The Purpose of the Past
Publication Info:Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2008
ISBN: 9781433242137

Previously Read by Same Author: The Radicalism of the American Revolution

Summary/Review: This is a collection of book reviews written by the esteemed historian Gordon S. Wood.  Many of them criticize history writers for presentism, post-modernism, political history, and scientific quantitative analysis.  Coming under Wood’s scrutiny are authors I admire such as Gary Wills, Barbara Tuchman, and Simon Schama.  Yet despite this, I like Wood’s well-written and well-supported take on how history should be told.  Regardless of Wood’s ultimate opinion of these works, there are a lot of books I want to add to my reading list.

Recommended booksPracticing History by Barbara Tuchman
Rating: ***

Book Review: 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks


Author: Michael Brooks
Title: 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
Publication Info: New York : Doubleday, c2008.
ISBN: 9780385520683

Summary/Review: This book is a collection of essays about scientific anomalies which are currently puzzling the scientific community.  I think Brooks is deliberately provocative in choosing these 13 and frequently criticizing scientists for their insularity and claims of unassailability.  On other hand, someone needs to say these things.

Here are the 13 things with a short synopsis of each:

  1. The Missing Universe – the question of dark matter which makes up most of our universe but cannot be found.
  2. The Pioneer Anomaly – should satellites drifting off course make us reevaluate our understanding of gravity?
  3. Varying Constants – the only constant in physics is inconstancy.
  4. Cold Fusion – an experiment so thoroughly debunked its not even to be discussed, but is there some truth to it?
  5. Life – how did it begin?
  6. Viking – did the Mars probe find evidence of extraterrestrial life?
  7. The WOW! Signal – have intelligent extraterrestrial beings already tried to contact us?
  8. A Giant Virus – the Mimivirus challenges what we think we know about viruses and the definition of life.
  9. Death – what is the genetic and evolutionary purpose of aging and death?
  10. Sex – is there really any evolutionary advantage to sexual reproduction over asexual reproduction?
  11. Free will – does our brain decide things for us before we even have a chance to “think.”
  12. The Placebo Effect – studies are inconclusive of whether placebos really work and what role they should play in medicine.
  13. Homeopathy – it’s all a bunch of hooey yet no scientific study has thoroughly discredited it either.

An interesting book, highly recommended if you’re interested in contemporary ideas in science.

Recommended books: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science by Max Brockman, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, and The Day the Universe Changed by James Burke.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table


Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes
Title: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table
Publication Info: Cosimo Classics (2005) [Originally published, 1858]
ISBN: 1596053070

Summary/Review:

I recently completed reading 107 daily installments of this classic work on DailyLit. This book lends itself well to this format as it is a series of essays and often less essay than snippets, vignettes, and quotes as if collected in a commonplace book.  Oliver Wendell Holmes waxes on poetry, manners, philosophy, aging and the art of conversation often with a touch of humor and satire.  It was a fun way to read a Yankee classic.

Favorite Passages:

When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and luster have been given by the attrition of ages. Bring me the finest simile from the whole range of imaginative writing, and I will show you a single word which conveys a more profound, a more accurate, and a more eloquent analogy.

Why, the truths a man carries about with him are his tools; and do you think a carpenter is bound to use the same plane but once to smooth a knotty board with, or to hang up his hammer after it has driven its first nail? I shall never repeat a conversation, but an idea often. I shall use the same types when I like, but not commonly the same stereotypes. A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations.

You know, that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,–AND THE FOOLS KNOW IT.

Many people can ride on horseback who find it hard to get on and to get off without assistance. One has to dismount from an idea, and get into the saddle again, at every parenthesis.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science


Author: edited by Max Brockman
Title: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science
Publication Info: New York : Vintage Books, 2009.
ISBN:  9780307389312

Summary/Review:

This short book is a collection of essays about the future of science and was a nice illuminating read.  Oddly enough, much of the material was already familiar to a dilettante like myself which I guess shows the efficacy of listening to podcasts of Radiolab and Scientific American.  The title is a little misleading as the majority of this book is “what’s now” with the authors not speculating much about the future, which is good science.  Popular topics among the essays are climate change, neurology as it relates to memory, language, and morality, and human evolution.  Favorite essays include Lera Boroditsky: “How Does Our Language Shape The Way We Think?”, Nathan Wolfe: “The Aliens Among Us” (about viruses), and Katerina Harvarti: “Extinction and the Evolution of Humankind.”  This is a good book to pick up if you’re interested in a quick overview of contemporary scientific research.

Recommended books: Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter
Rating: ***