Alan Prince

“People see alligators in the park and think everything is good. That's ridiculous,” a naturalist tells travel journalist W. Hodding Carter. In the pages of Stolen Water: Saving the Everglades from Its Friends, Foes and Florida, Carter describes what visitors do not see: a monumental battle between nature and civilization that began more than a century ago. The Everglades, a shallow, slow-moving river, was mistakenly despised as a swamp in the early 1900s. Since then, state and federal officials have built canals, levees and dams to drain it “and by the time certain people realized it was a river, we'd already turned it into a swamp,” says Carter, thereby creating precisely what they were trying to eliminate in the first place. Carter says civilization's interference causes 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to be dumped wastefully every day into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Among the consequences: 90 percent of the Everglades' wading birds have vanished, more than 60 species of animals face extinction, and mercury levels in fish are seven times higher than considered safe by the government. After weighing such issues as industrial pollution, population growth and flood control, Carter, who went into the Everglades “knowing nothing,” deplores what he sees as a “half-assed” management program. Written in a conversational manner and splashed with humor, this book deserves a wide readership, especially among legislators who still have a chance to save an area unlike any other on Earth.

“People see alligators in the park and think everything is good. That's ridiculous,” a naturalist tells travel journalist W. Hodding Carter. In the pages of Stolen Water: Saving the Everglades from Its Friends, Foes and Florida, Carter describes what visitors do not see: a monumental battle between nature and civilization that began more than a […]

Professors used to teach that the human mind could never fully understand the human mind, because, as postulated, one cannot define an unknown by means of an unknown. Shaped to support and protect the brain, the skull, by its very design, prevented scientists from closely examining the world's most complex structure until after a person died. In recent decades, however, powerful technology has allowed us to see such wonders as thought taking place in the brain. In An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, Diane Ackerman escorts the reader inside the skull to the 100 billion nerve cells that's right, 100 billion that do the brain's heavy work. It is a fascinating trip.

In addition to telling us which part of the brain does what, Ackerman tackles subjects that most of us ponder from time to time. Who hasn't for a moment inexplicably groped for a word on the tip of the tongue or failed to remember a close friend's name or couldn't recall what we did last weekend and then wondered if these scary blanks are warnings of an early onset of Alzheimer's? Ackerman describes remarkable experiments on both animals and humans that have awesome implications for Earth's featherless bipeds. In one, the intelligence and memory of a mouse were boosted five-fold by enlivening certain molecules for 150 thousandths of a second. She also tells of tests to locate and map guilty thoughts in the human brain, suggesting the possibility that airline ticket-holders some day might be brain-scanned and raising the quandary of how to tell if a suspected traveler is a terrorist with destructive intent or merely a passenger who has fibbed to his spouse.

Ackerman, whose prodigious output of poetry and nonfiction works includes the best-selling A Natural History of the Senses, acknowledges that "nature holds more secrets than we can unpuzzle." One example: the author, who holds a doctorate from Cornell and is consistently brilliant and perceptive in her writing, flunked logic as a college freshman.

Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami School of Communication.

Professors used to teach that the human mind could never fully understand the human mind, because, as postulated, one cannot define an unknown by means of an unknown. Shaped to support and protect the brain, the skull, by its very design, prevented scientists from closely examining the world's most complex structure until after a person […]

On the first Saturday in May, sports fans look toward Churchill Downs, where last year the fantasy of a lowly longshot beating the odds turned into reality. The tale of this unlikely Kentucky Derby winner is told in Funny Cide: How a Horse, a Trainer, a Jockey, and a Bunch of High School Buddies Took on the Sheiks and Bluebloods . . . and Won (Putnam, $24.95, 320 pages, ISBN 0399151796). It's an exhilarating story of how 10 friends traveling in rented school buses instead of limousines, eating hamburger instead of steak, and guzzling beer rather than sipping champagne snared racing's biggest prize. No gelding had won the Kentucky Derby since 1929, and no New York-bred horse had ever won it, but Funny Cide's owners from upstate New York showed that a relatively cheap horse with a modest pedigree could defeat the most expensive horseflesh.

Collaborating with the principals, Sally Jenkins, co-author of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong's best-selling It's Not About the Bike, also tells the story of Funny Cide's jockey JosŽ Santos, once the nation's leading jockey who was bouncing back from injuries, divorce and debt. “This is the one,” Santos had confided to his agent a year before the Kentucky Derby. “This is the one.” As a three-year-old, Funny Cide won only two of eight starts, but those victories were in the Derby and the Preakness, the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Millions of middle-income fans, feeling they owned a piece of the horse, generated a surge of excitement for the sport as the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, approached. Funny Cide lost that race on a sloppy track and as he slowly headed back to the barn area with his head down, hundreds of thousands of bettors at Belmont Park applauded him and booed the winner.

Horse racing's goal is simple: If your horse crosses the finish line first, you win. However, attaining that goal is more complicated, as we see in Jane Smiley's A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck. A versatile writer whose previous works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres and the best-selling comic novel, Horse Heaven, Smiley now turns with unbridled enthusiasm to the realities of a sport/industry, citing scores of personal experiences. Her theories linking equine thought processes and emotions to human actions are intriguing.

Smiley offers a sage observation about young women who fall in love with horses and give up virtually everything else as she did. She writes: “Someday, we would have boyfriends, husbands, children, careers that's what horses are a substitute for, according to adult theorists. But what truly horsey girls discover in the end is that boyfriends, husbands, children, and careers are the substitutes for horses.” Alan Prince of Deerfield Beach, Florida, is an expert on horses that lose.

On the first Saturday in May, sports fans look toward Churchill Downs, where last year the fantasy of a lowly longshot beating the odds turned into reality. The tale of this unlikely Kentucky Derby winner is told in Funny Cide: How a Horse, a Trainer, a Jockey, and a Bunch of High School Buddies Took […]

On the first Saturday in May, sports fans look toward Churchill Downs, where last year the fantasy of a lowly longshot beating the odds turned into reality. The tale of this unlikely Kentucky Derby winner is told in Funny Cide: How a Horse, a Trainer, a Jockey, and a Bunch of High School Buddies Took on the Sheiks and Bluebloods . . . and Won. It's an exhilarating story of how 10 friends traveling in rented school buses instead of limousines, eating hamburger instead of steak, and guzzling beer rather than sipping champagne snared racing's biggest prize. No gelding had won the Kentucky Derby since 1929, and no New York-bred horse had ever won it, but Funny Cide's owners from upstate New York showed that a relatively cheap horse with a modest pedigree could defeat the most expensive horseflesh.

Collaborating with the principals, Sally Jenkins, co-author of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong's best-selling It's Not About the Bike, also tells the story of Funny Cide's jockey JosŽ Santos, once the nation's leading jockey who was bouncing back from injuries, divorce and debt. “This is the one,” Santos had confided to his agent a year before the Kentucky Derby. “This is the one.” As a three-year-old, Funny Cide won only two of eight starts, but those victories were in the Derby and the Preakness, the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Millions of middle-income fans, feeling they owned a piece of the horse, generated a surge of excitement for the sport as the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, approached. Funny Cide lost that race on a sloppy track and as he slowly headed back to the barn area with his head down, hundreds of thousands of bettors at Belmont Park applauded him and booed the winner.

Horse racing's goal is simple: If your horse crosses the finish line first, you win. However, attaining that goal is more complicated, as we see in Jane Smiley's A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck (Knopf, $22, 288 pages, ISBN 1400040582). A versatile writer whose previous works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres and the best-selling comic novel, Horse Heaven, Smiley now turns with unbridled enthusiasm to the realities of a sport/industry, citing scores of personal experiences. Her theories linking equine thought processes and emotions to human actions are intriguing.

Smiley offers a sage observation about young women who fall in love with horses and give up virtually everything else as she did. She writes: “Someday, we would have boyfriends, husbands, children, careers that's what horses are a substitute for, according to adult theorists. But what truly horsey girls discover in the end is that boyfriends, husbands, children, and careers are the substitutes for horses.” Alan Prince of Deerfield Beach, Florida, is an expert on horses that lose.

On the first Saturday in May, sports fans look toward Churchill Downs, where last year the fantasy of a lowly longshot beating the odds turned into reality. The tale of this unlikely Kentucky Derby winner is told in Funny Cide: How a Horse, a Trainer, a Jockey, and a Bunch of High School Buddies Took […]

There's a small group of people who measure time in tenths and hundredths of seconds; they are the heroes of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It. Author Neal Bascomb takes us into the world of track and field and focuses on three superstars who sought to be the first to run a mile in four minutes or less.

For decades, the prevailing thought in the sports community was that the feat was impossible and, even if it were accomplishable, it would so overtax the body that death would result. These notions rested primarily on physiologists' knowledge of the capacity of legs and lungs, but England's Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student, added two factors: heart and head. He devised painful experiments to learn the complex relation between oxygen and exhaustion. In effect, he converted his body into a scientific project, helping him to modify his running technique.

On May 6, 1954, in Oxford, England, with the assistance of two "rabbits" colleagues who set the pace for him Bannister did what most of the world had considered impossible: he ran a mile in three minutes, 59.4 seconds. Indeed, it will be a callous reader who is not stirred by Bascomb's account of the race, even a half-century later. The author enables us to accompany Bannister throughout that entire historic day, to be privy to his doubts, to listen to the conversations on strategy with his coach and his collaborative runners, and then to virtually join them in the race.

We're there for each strength-sapping lap and for the stretch kick; we see the exhausted Bannister collapse "I was prepared to die," he later said and we share the celebration that crowned this immortal moment in human effort. Sports Illustrated rated Bannister's breakthrough with the scaling of Mount Everest as the most significant athletic feats of the 20th century, and a British newspaper declared it to be England's greatest triumph since the realm's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The rejoicing was not universal, however. Rival superstars John Landy of Australia and Wes Santee of the United States were disappointed that they had not been first to crack the barrier. Santee never managed to accomplish the feat, but only 47 days after Bannister's achievement, Landy, who had viewed the four-minute barrier as "a brick wall," lowered the record to 3:58, thus setting the stage for a head-to-head showdown with the Englishman at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver seven weeks later. Racing to beat the clock is one thing, but running to beat a competitor is another, requiring a different strategy. Again, Bascomb, previously the author of Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City, takes us trackside and shares the runners' thoughts and tactics in what was billed as "The Mile of the Century." In that dramatic confrontation in Vancouver, Bannister won by less than a second as both men were clocked in under four minutes clearly supporting the contention that the barrier had been more psychological than physical.

Today, running a sub-four-minute mile is almost routine; about 1,000 people have done it. As its golden anniversary approaches, this excellent book celebrates Bannister's epic triumph and the timeless message that our most difficult struggles are within ourselves.

 

Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami School of Communication.

There's a small group of people who measure time in tenths and hundredths of seconds; they are the heroes of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It. Author Neal Bascomb takes us into the world of track and field and focuses on three superstars who sought to […]

<B>A son reclaims his father's dream</B> Before he died, Dennis Covington's father, who never earned more than $14,000 in a year, told him: "To my knowledge, no Covington has ever left anything to anybody. I don't intend to be the first." Angered because he had been swindled in the purchase of a sight-unseen plot of worthless Florida land, he then willed the deed to Dennis. Dennis interpreted this departure from family custom as a challenge from the grave: to redeem his inheritance.

Some years later, Covington drove from his Alabama home to take a look at the two and one-half acre parcel. That trip led to a series of harrowing experiences he relates in <B>Redneck Riviera: Armadillos, Outlaws, and the Demise of an American Dream</B>. Unlike other cheated landowners, Covington refused to yield his claim when he found himself encircled by an ornery subculture that endorses the mere notion of "he deserved it" as a justifiable reason for maiming or even slaying another person.

Covington defies gun-toting yahoos and squatters who, with the assent of compliant sheriff's deputies, have denied access to the legal owners and taken over the land as their own. He is greeted by clear messages that he is unwelcome on his own property: his Jeep has been trashed, his crude cabin has been strafed with bullets and its canvas walls slashed, and, as the ultimate warning, a dead armadillo lies on its back in the middle of the floor. Covington, whose <I>Salvation on Sand Mountain</I> was a 1995 National Book Award finalist, excels as a storyteller. Although the pursuit of his father's folly drives his new book, Covington is able to mix the retelling of his mission with happy thoughts about growing up with his family. He reminisces in such an appealing way that some readers probably will be prompted to put the book down for a few minutes and recall tender moments when their own parents counseled them. When a writer inspires a response like that, a reader can't ask for much more. <I>Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami School of Communication.</I>

<B>A son reclaims his father's dream</B> Before he died, Dennis Covington's father, who never earned more than $14,000 in a year, told him: "To my knowledge, no Covington has ever left anything to anybody. I don't intend to be the first." Angered because he had been swindled in the purchase of a sight-unseen plot of […]

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