Martin Brady

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The writings on Abraham Lincoln are almost too considerable to calculate, thus testifying to his endurance as historical personage, iconic hero and the source of curiosity for endless researchers. But with the bicentennial of his birth upon us, a wealth of recent publications retrace his life and legacy, hoping to shed new—or merely refocused—light on all that is already known about the man.

Ronald C. White Jr.’s A. Lincoln: A Biography is an imposing doorstopper of a book, close to a thousand pages and exhaustively annotated and referenced. As near as any interested reader might determine, White has left absolutely no stone unturned, from an account of forebear Samuel Lincoln leaving England for the New World in 1637, to the family struggles in Kentucky and Indiana, to the young Abe’s adventurous younger years, to his rise as lawyer and politician in Illinois, and on through the Civil War and the grief of the nation upon his assassination in 1865.

White’s research benefits from the availability of the recently completed Lincoln Legal Papers—which offer a more thorough view of Lincoln’s law practice—and also the emergence of newly discovered letters and photos. Besides a sense of Lincoln’s integrity—something pretty much easily assumed by most anyway—it is perhaps the man’s smartly practical spirit that emerges through this stout tome, in particular as relates to the great political issues before him (e.g., slavery) and the difficult task of guiding his armies and a nation through a horrific war, which tested every aspect of daily life and constantly demanded a nurturant sense of its absolute necessity. Finally, Lincoln rises up in this volume as a patriot of the ultimate rank, one with a determined eye on the prize: Union.

Presidential brief
Abraham Lincoln is an entry in the highly regarded American Presidents series, originally under the editorship of the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. These volumes are usually authored by distinguished journalists or historians, and, once in a while, by noted politicos, in this case former South Dakota senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George S. McGovern. McGovern capably sticks to the series formula, which involves a more general overview of the subject’s life and career, along with a development of the key themes that shaped his most important actions. McGovern’s tone is laudatory throughout, as he offers insights into Lincoln’s attitudes on politics, the war and his most dearly held personal beliefs. Coverage is from hardscrabble Kentucky beginnings to the last moments at Ford’s Theatre. This is a fine read for those who want to know about Lincoln but may not have time for the more in-depth biographies.

Inside the Lincoln White House
Pulitzer Prize winner James M. McPherson’s Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief mines a topic that’s been touched upon previously in many other publications—Lincoln dealing with the command aspects of war. Yet the author offers an engrossing narrative that shows how Honest Abe grasped the reins of his new and heretofore untested presidential duties, while also examining his difficulties in dealing with a string of Army generals whose failings often proved vexatious. McPherson gives us a Lincoln who, after taking office, immersed himself in a crash course on military strategy, then steadfastly applied what he’d learned to the enormous task at hand. Leaving the micro-issues of campaigns and tactics to his military men, Lincoln nevertheless consistently prodded them with commonsensical admonishments on the value of stalking the enemy and striking hard when necessary. Flummoxed by the vain and overly cautious McClellan, the unprepared Burnside, the disappointing Hooker and the merely competent Meade, Lincoln finally found his fighter in Ulysses Grant. McPherson effectively mixes the political undercurrent of events with his deconstruction of Lincoln’s process in eventually achieving victory.

Daniel Mark Epstein’s Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries captures the lives of Lincoln’s secretaries—John Hay, John Nicolay and William Stoddard—each of whom claimed Illinois roots by virtue of residence, education or work. Nicolay had essentially run Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign, Stoddard had been a supportive Illinois newspaperman, and the youngest, Hay, came recommended as a young poet and fresh graduate of Brown University. Epstein mixes their accounts into one narrative, with the obvious bulk of the material focused on their time in the White House, where the trio basically comprised the whole of the president’s staff. Nicolay did the chief executive’s scheduling and Hay ran interference; this duo eventually went on to jointly publish a seminal Lincoln biography years later. Stoddard, originally hired as a patent officer at the Interior Department, juggled several jobs, including assisting the president with his speeches, but eventually dealing more with the affairs of Mrs. Lincoln. Hay ultimately established the biggest name for himself—he was secretary of state under McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. This is a readable joint biography that connects its subjects to Lincoln with legitimacy.

His final act and legacy
Lincoln’s last year as president was certainly taken up in large part with the prosecution of the war, but, as Charles Bracelen Flood makes clear in 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, the man was also dealing with intense extracurricular political matters. Somehow continuing to more or less efficiently battle the Confederate Army, Lincoln meanwhile dealt with the presence of French troops in Mexico, grousing cabinet members, myriad technical issues regarding the continued settling of the expanding American West and related railroad legislation, not to mention the onslaught of a stormy re-election campaign, which brought with it endless pressure from an often-hostile press and infighting within his own party about the terms of impending Reconstruction and the disposition of the freed-slave issue. Flood’s extensively sourced text tracks the official Lincoln in great detail, while also making sure the well-researched quoted excerpts provide insight into the president’s admirable character and manners and incredible strength under pressure.

The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now would make an astute gift for any Lincoln buff, but it’s a definite keeper for any home library as well. Editor Harold Holzer (whose Lincoln President-Elect was released last fall) gathers more than 100 works composed by writers, historians and politicians, from Lincoln’s time to the present day. The pieces represent all genres—essays, novels, plays, biographies, speeches, magazine articles, poetry and memoirs—and the topical coverage is essentially universal. That includes discussions on Lincoln’s fascination with language, the lost love of his life (Ann Rutledge), his historic debates with Stephen Douglas, his outlook on race and religion, his daily work regimen, and his politics and policies. Men and women of verse are here in force (Robert Lowell, Mark Van Doren, Stephen Vincent Benét, Marianne Moore, Carl Sandburg, etc.), and the general range of contributors throughout is all-encompassing (Emerson, Marx, Hawthorne, Stowe, Ibsen, Melville, Twain, Tolstoy, Wicker, Vidal, Safire, Doctorow et al.). Walt Whitman, perhaps Lincoln’s most ardent literary fan, weighs in with no fewer than nine separate contributions. Arrangement of the entries is chronological, but Lincoln diehards can pick this one up and start reading just about anywhere.

Thanks to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Brady believes in the “better angels of our nature.”

The writings on Abraham Lincoln are almost too considerable to calculate, thus testifying to his endurance as historical personage, iconic hero and the source of curiosity for endless researchers. But with the bicentennial of his birth upon us, a wealth of recent publications retrace his life and legacy, hoping to shed new—or merely refocused—light on […]
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This season’s crop of new baseball books offers some revealing journalism that leads readers onto the sport’s less traveled basepaths. Meanwhile, notable bios in the lineup incorporate some of the game’s most compelling history into their pages.

Calling the shots
Bruce Weber’s As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires  might be the most original piece of reportage on the baseball front in years. While so much of the baseball literature is invested in the achievements of the players, Weber goes another—and totally refreshing—route, getting the inside dope on the lives and careers of umpires. Seemingly taken for granted and tolerated as a necessary evil, umpires are a critical part of the game, yet the culture and economics of the profession, as Weber so keenly chronicles, are generally second-rate. While players routinely become millionaires, most umpires spend their lives in the minor leagues, with slim chances for advancement to the major leagues. They suffer years of unglamorous travel with no guarantee of financial payoff, all the while enduring verbal abuse from fans, players and managers, as well as the indifference of league executives who hire and fire them. The umpire’s life is a solitary one, and as part of his homework, Weber actually enrolls in a noted umpiring school, gains some hard-won expertise, and travels to Podunks across America watching his newfound brethren at work. Later, Weber pulls a Plimpton-like, fantasy-fulfillment stint as third-base ump at a major league exhibition game. Throughout, the author charts umpiring history, profiles some of the legendary practitioners, explains recent labor disputes and attempts to clarify some famous on-the-field incidents, whenever possible conducting firsthand interviews to get the stories behind the controversial calls. 


Major stories from the minor leagues
In a similar vein, Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit draws readers into the small-town world of baseball’s minor leagues, but comes at it from the POV of the struggling young player. In 2002, author McCarthy was a talented pitcher at Yale, good enough to enter the Anaheim Angels’ farm system. McCarthy winds up in a rookie league in Provo, Utah, surrounded by Mormons in the stands and, in the clubhouse, an eclectic collection of teammates, including coddled, high-priced bonus babies, blue-collar wannabes, colorful dudes with vague moral compasses and also Latin players who speak very little English. Heading up the team is veteran minor league manager Tom Kotchman, who emerges as a lovably eccentric baseball lifer on a par with some of the comical characters the world met in Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four some 40 years ago. McCarthy only lasts the one season, then gets his walking papers for good at spring training 2003. McCarthy’s memoir was drawn from diary entries, and his recollections have been disputed by some the individuals he played with, but the entries are absorbing, including his encounters with a fair number of players who have since made the grade at the major league level.

Life lessons

Straw: Finding My Way, co-authored with John Strausbaugh, tells the life story of former outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who, after excellent years with the Mets in the 1980s—including a World Series championship in 1986—eventually had to confront many demons. Son of an abusive alcoholic father, Strawberry traversed some very dark personal roads—drugs (all kinds), sex, paternity suits, chaotic marriages, run-ins with police—then watched physical injury take a toll on his baseball career. He attempted comebacks, and even had success in the ’90s with the Yankees, but not before he was stricken with colon cancer, which he has battled courageously. This book functions rather as Strawberry’s attempt to make his peace with friends, relatives and God, while working his way to a cathartically gained perspective on both his failures and his commitment to a more responsible life.

Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee is a biography of another kind: that of a beloved baseball legend who conducted himself in exemplary fashion both on and off the field. Born into a modest Italian-American immigrant home in St. Louis in 1925, Berra showed promise early on but World War II interrupted his minor-league career. Serving in the Navy—and seeing duty at the Normandy landings on D-Day—Berra eventually joined the New York Yankees in 1946 and began a spectacular Hall of Fame career as a catcher and outfielder. Journalist Allen Barra’s book is the first full-bodied accounting of Berra’s life, and, along the way, he essentially tells the story of the great Yankee teams of the 1950s and ’60s. He also covers Yogi’s managerial stints (which met with mixed results) and opines on his subject’s famous penchant for originating colorful aphorisms. Many archival photos cover every area of Yogi’s life.

An overlooked legend
Michael D’Antonio’s Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles is a well-researched book that covers the life of the late owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and also recalls the pivotal events that led to his moving the team from Brooklyn to the West Coast in 1957. O’Malley is a key historical baseball figure, but heretofore not much has been known about him by the general reading public. A lawyer involved originally in the Dodgers’ finances, he took controlling ownership of the franchise in 1950, fielding some great teams, including the 1955 squad that defeated the Yankees in the World Series. O’Malley was vilified by Brooklynites with the move to Los Angeles, but D’Antonio’s account implies that O’Malley’s apparently sincere attempts to keep the team in Flatbush were thwarted by competing commercial interests and stodgy city officials, which eventually forced him to seek greener pastures for “Dem Bums.” D’Antonio writes consistently well, and his book fills an important gap in baseball history.

Martin Brady blogs about sports at Sports Media America.

 

This season’s crop of new baseball books offers some revealing journalism that leads readers onto the sport’s less traveled basepaths. Meanwhile, notable bios in the lineup incorporate some of the game’s most compelling history into their pages. Calling the shots Bruce Weber’s As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires  might […]
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Another year passes, and finding good gifts for that favorite guy only gets tougher. Books can be a solution, though, since their subject matter ranges as widely as the different types of guys on anyone’s shopping list. Sports books are always big, and this season has produced several of note, but the practical guy and the guy who likes to laugh are also covered. There are even a couple of books about cowboys—and deep down inside, that’s every guy.

The love of the game
The publishers of Sports Illustrated continue to dazzle at holiday time with their beautiful, oversized treatments on major sports, and The Golf Book: A Celebration of the Ancient Game is no exception. Typical of the book series, the sport is generally broken down into eras, with accompanying facts on achievers and achievements interspersed with articles by members of SI’s roster of past and present first-rate journalists, including Dan Jenkins, Rick Reilly, George Plimpton, Frank Deford and the legendary Herbert Warren Wind, who offers a sobering review of Arnold Palmer’s controversial antics at Amen Corner during the 1958 Masters. The photos, by SI’s many award-winners, are often breath-taking: PGA Tour rookie Tiger Woods staring meaningfully into the camera; Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sharing a poignant post-round moment; Pebble Beach’s gorgeous oceanside 18th hole; and much more. The ladies receive some coverage, too (Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, etc.), plus there are endless sidebars focusing on equipment, golf in pop culture, the game as played by our presidents and, in one really surprising photo, the game as played by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro! Roy Blount Jr.’s marvelous foreword, “We’re Talking Golf,” provides etymological clarification of golf’s colorful terminology.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons is a basketball freak. He’s also a lively, sharp-witted, delightfully cynical writer who has exhaustively poured his heart and soul into The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy. This hefty tome can’t be consumed at a single sitting, but it’s damn enjoyable to start reading on any random page. Simmons is relentless, offering cogent historical views of the game’s great teams; sharp statistical analysis; smart assessments of important trades and critical big games; plus the infamous Simmons “pyramid,” which ranks the game’s best-ever 96 players. Simmons is a smart aleck, but he’s also doggedly thorough with his facts and writes with authority—and that includes his almost scholarly insistence on footnotes, which is where a lot of his wit is embedded.

Sports on the big screen
In The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Sports Films of All Time, Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow—both Philadelphians with solid sports media backgrounds—offer descriptions of movies ranging from Rocky (#1) to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (#100). For each film, the authors include backstory sidebars, contemporary critical reactions and evaluations of pivotal scenes. Interspersed throughout are related essays covering, for example, great sports movies for kids and rankings of actors based on their portrayals of famous athletes, plus interviews with various individuals involved in one way or another with the films, such as actors Bob Uecker (Major League) and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie). Black-and-white photos throughout enhance the already impressive coverage.

Be a know-it-all
The guy who wants to get his macho mojo back will certainly have an interest in The Indispensable Book of Practical Life Skills: Essential Lessons in Everything You Need to Be a Fully Functioning Adult . True, there are touchy-feely (i.e., girly) things in here, but there are also many how-tos of a kind that used to define the man in our society, like jump-starting a car, splitting logs, dealing with emergencies, being handy around the house, plus outdoorsy stuff like camping and . . . skinning a rabbit? Illustrated usefully, and with lucid, step-by-step descriptions, this guide covers a lot of other take-charge, know-how-to-git-’er-done situations. (Softer guys can use the book to learn how to bake bread.)

Big laughs from The Onion
Since its founding in 1988, the hilarious satirical newspaper The Onion has gained a loyal national following and increasing cultural cachet as an outlet for scathing social and political humor. Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source  is a terrific oversized browsing item, reprinting—mostly in full color—the front pages of every issue from inception through the 2008 presidential election. “Clinton Vaguely Disappointed By Lack of Assassination Attempts,” says one headline from February 2001, and anyone who loves The Onion—and we know you’re out there—knows that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wrap it up and give it to the guy who knows what funny is.

Poker face
Author and card player James McManus’ Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker is an erudite, well-researched and fully referenced history of the French parlor game that morphed into an American obsession in the mid-19th century. Ranging from the revolver-toting days of Wild Bill Hickok to smoky 20th-century Vegas backrooms to the modern age of online gaming, McManus’ work gains broader texture in its linking of play-for-pay card games to various aspects of American society, not least of which are politics and leadership. Hence we learn, among many other things, that President Obama availed himself of poker night while a state senator in Illinois—and acquitted himself well. President Nixon was also notably good playing cards during his World War II service. McManus’ thesis connects gambling to the American character, and given the domestic millions won and lost daily in its various forms, who could say otherwise? An informative glossary of terms is appended.

Channel your inner cowboy
Finally, there’s Jim Arndt’s How to Be a Cowboy: A Compendium of Knowledge and Insight, Wit and Wisdom, a book with a title that speaks for itself. Gorgeous photos are the hallmark of this modest-sized gem, but Arndt, a noted commercial and art photographer, breaks his pictorial coverage down via chapters that also offer cowboy facts and lore, ranging from apparel to the cowboy milieu (ranch, range, rodeo) through cowboy music and the wit and wisdom of the great cowboy philosopher Will Rogers. Cowboys in pop culture are covered in a subsection called “The Cowboy Way,” which presents fun rundowns of great movies and novels and features cool old black-and-white photos of icons such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Nevertheless, it’s the rich color camerawork that really compels, and Arndt’s classy shots of elaborately designed boots, shirts, blue jeans and hats, plus peripheral cowboy gear, are enough to make a guy chuck the 9-to-5 and head out to the wild, wild West.

Another year passes, and finding good gifts for that favorite guy only gets tougher. Books can be a solution, though, since their subject matter ranges as widely as the different types of guys on anyone’s shopping list. Sports books are always big, and this season has produced several of note, but the practical guy and […]
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What is it about movies? Well, just about everything. They are popular entertainment, a universal vehicle for storytelling, a reflection of society, a window into the past, a source of iconic imagery and, finally, lastingly accessible documents of our times. Books about movies and movie stars only extend and inform our fascination, and just in time for Oscar season, a new crop offers both challenging and lighter reading guaranteed to engage film fans.

Star power
Originally published in Great Britain, the Faber & Faber Great Stars series presents mini-biographies of some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Noted film historian and lexicographer David Thomson is the author of the first four entries in the series. Each paperback is named for its subject—Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman. Each is priced at $14, with the compact coverage tapping out at 130 pages. In this case, brevity might be the soul of wit, presuming that Thomson’s somewhat affected insider’s tone and penchant for titillating sidebars—Davis’ abortions, the size of Cooper’s manhood, Bergman’s affairs and failures as a mother, Bogart’s harridan of a third wife—don’t distract the reader too much from the coverage of his subjects’ early lives, career development and greatest on-screen efforts. As to the latter, Thomson is solid in his assessments, and each key film is well placed into its unavoidably gossipy but often very eventful production context. Each volume features the star’s filmography, plus a smattering of black-and-white archival photos researched by Lucy Gray.

The director’s chair
Actors and actresses may draw the public’s obsessive attention, but the great guiding genius in filmmaking is the director, and two new coffee-table books offer riveting rundowns—in both bounteous pictures and incisive text—of the lives and careers of essential masters. Federico Fellini: The Films offers a keenly detailed narrative by Italian film critic, screenwriter, playwright, actor and Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich. With its rich selection of photos, mainly from the archives of the Fondazione Federico Fellini, this volume soars in its analysis of the man, his movies (often autobiographical in inspiration, focused on societal extremes and, in his later period, politically aware) and the vibrancy of his personalized filmmaking culture.

Coincidentally—or maybe not so—Fellini shared many traits with legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: Both fortuitously avoided service in World War II, both were accomplished graphic artists (a skill that factored directly into their cinematic visions), both worked extensively and very consciously with a veritable family of performers and technical talents, and both, quite ironically, spent their later years making TV commercials. Furthermore, and perhaps most amazingly, both stayed married to one woman their entire adult lives. Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema shares with its sister volume the same reverent regard for its subject: his dogged devotion to his craft, his unique position as an important postwar commentator and his huge influence on later filmmakers. Film historian Peter Cowie’s thorough, erudite coverage accompanies some 200 photographs, mostly black-and-white (Kurosawa’s predominant milieu), though striking color shots from the auteur’s later films are well represented. Introductory essays by Martin Scorsese and Kurosawa expert Donald Richie help set the stage for the book’s pictorial and verbal one-two punch, exposing and explaining the director’s thematic approach to the human condition, Japanese society in particular and the traditions of the ancient samurai that infuse his best-known works. Both books argue forcefully for the rediscovery by younger generations of the vast scope and power of these artists’ great achievements.

Up in lights
Finally, for the more determined movie fan, we have Ira M. Resnick’s Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood. Long an aficionado of movie posters and other ephemera, Resnick followed up a Tinseltown stint as a photographer by founding the Motion Picture Arts Gallery in Manhattan and launching his more lasting career as a collector and dealer. This volume features nearly 300 glorious examples of promotional movie artwork and stills from Resnick’s impressive personal collection, with the items spanning from 1912 to 1962. Resnick’s text incorporates his personal story along with profiles of marquee film stars, important directors and history-making movies. The ubiquitous Scorsese, who many years before was Resnick’s instructor at NYU’s film school, contributes the introduction.

What is it about movies? Well, just about everything. They are popular entertainment, a universal vehicle for storytelling, a reflection of society, a window into the past, a source of iconic imagery and, finally, lastingly accessible documents of our times. Books about movies and movie stars only extend and inform our fascination, and just in […]
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For the men on your list, this year’s selection has a sporty bent, with side trips into macho movies, manly pursuits and muscular journalism.

EYE OF THE TIGER
Leading off the pack—and combining good reporting with a story ripped from the headlines—is Tom Callahan’s His Father’s Son: Earl and Tiger Woods. Callahan, author of the acclaimed bio Johnny U, brings a two-tiered approach to the story of the two Woods men, outlining father Earl’s life and maverick mindset and placing the great golfer Tiger’s own life and career into that broader context. Is the child father to the man? Perhaps so, though Callahan seems better able to profile Woods the father, with his varied markers as military man, Vietnam vet, college athlete and major influence on Tiger. We also gain some insight—if not outright understanding—into the Woodses’ way with women, and that should interest many readers, this being the first major volume to grapple with Tiger’s personality since his endlessly publicized fall from grace in late 2009. (That said, Tiger still comes off here as pretty elusive emotionally.) Callahan infuses his text with many accounts of Tiger’s achievements at major tournaments and also quotes notable golf figures such as Ernie Els, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on Tiger—the athlete and the man.

ALL ABOUT B-BALL
Two seasons ago, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac took the sports publishing world by storm with its offbeat collaborative writing and unique graphics approach. The writers identified with FreeDarko.com are at it again, in The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, which applies the same on-the-edge journalism to analysis of the game’s past, from the development of the early leagues, to the rise of the NBA, to rundowns of the impact on the sport by figures such as Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain through to the more modern era of Bird, Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Shaq, Kobe, etc. The text, as quirkily readable as ever, further ranges over pop culture, books, movies and on- and off-court events that have become emblazoned in the public mind in the television age.

BONE, JAMES BOND
For the escapist, movie-fan guy, two new entries in the Bond Collection offer fun reading and browsing. With text by Alastair Dougall, Bond Girls and Bond Villains present nostalgic, evocative pictorial coverage of all the evil geniuses, henchmen and seductive and/or poisonous ladies encountered by the seven cinema James Bonds, in films ranging from Dr. No (1962) to Quantum of Solace (2008). These are fabulously entertaining volumes, though curiously, the actors who played the many roles, men and women, are never identified by name in the text, nor are the Bonds (spanning Sean Connery through Daniel Craig). In that case, the book is particularly recommended for those who think of the Bond phenomenon—and its many personalities—as more fact than fiction.

BLOWING SMOKE
“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke,” wrote Rudyard Kipling. In an age where tobacco is anathema to most—a sneaky killer and a social no-no—there are still folks who treasure the singular culture surrounding the cigar (which still goes nicely with brandy, by the way). Churchill, for example, supposedly smoked 8 to 10 of them a day (and Sir Winston lived to be 90). Don’t forget George Burns, Bill Cosby, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain and Fidel Castro, to name but a few on the long and worthy list of tokers. For those who embrace the occasional habit, Lawrence Dorfman’s The Cigar Lover’s Compendium: Everything You Need to Light Up and Leave Me Alone is pretty much a must-have volume. Like cigars themselves, Dorfman’s guidebook is, uh, thoroughly satisfying—from the history of cigar-making to connoisseur considerations to anecdotes and aphorisms. Plus, there’s a useful list of cigar bars and shops in the U.S. and Canada; also a glossary of terms. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

THE BEST OF THE BEST
Finally, in praise of good writing—and an interesting gift for the guy who appreciates it—is The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese. Talese is internationally known as a purveyor of the so-called New Journalism and author of literary nonfiction classics like The Kingdom and the Power and Thy Neighbor’s Wife. Yet Talese was also a sportswriter, first plying that trade as a teenager for the Ocean City (N.J.) Sentinel-Ledger. Later, he wrote for the University of Alabama’s Crimson-White and eventually the New York Times, Esquire and other major publications. This anthology gathers his pieces from every era—the earliest dating from 1948­—and displays his interest in more than merely the final score, with notably atypical, sometimes surprising reportage on basketball, football, baseball, golf, horse racing and even speed-skating, with a 1980 profile of Olympians Eric and Beth Heiden. He weaves discussion of race, media and society into these stories, and, apropos to his age group (Talese is now 78), there’s a good deal of coverage on boxing, as befits its former standing as a major, print-ready sport. Though Talese famously sympathized with underdogs, the book’s title derives from his famous 1966 Esquire article on Joe DiMaggio—still, decades later, a sports icon.

For the men on your list, this year’s selection has a sporty bent, with side trips into macho movies, manly pursuits and muscular journalism. EYE OF THE TIGER Leading off the pack—and combining good reporting with a story ripped from the headlines—is Tom Callahan’s His Father’s Son: Earl and Tiger Woods. Callahan, author of the […]
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Fatherhood can be a challenge filled with responsibility, frustration and even pain, when life and relationships don’t go smoothly. But love, hope, pride and a sense of personal reward are the fulfilling part of the deal, and this selection of new titles helps to express the importance of the tie that binds.

AT HOME IN THE KITCHEN

A cartoonist, and also an editor and writer for The New Yorker, John Donohue exploits a wonderful idea about men and food and emerges with Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families. Fact is, many of the world’s great chefs are men, so there’s no startling revelation here about males being savvy in the kitchen. But Donohue deftly links the phenomenon to the societal changes in modern-day life, where women and men are increasingly exchanging traditional roles, a situation that has opened the doors wide to average guys exercising culinary muscles—and proving to be pretty darn good at it.

Donohue solicits testimony mostly from writers, editors and journalists—including Stephen King—who supply interesting accounts of their personal excursions into the cooking life and recommendations for their favorite cookbooks, plus a few recipes each. Screenwriter Matt Greenberg’s Grilled Burgers with Herb Butter look straight-ahead delicious, as does musician and short story author Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s Peanut Butter Soup. King’s Pretty Good Cake seems simple enough (and tasty), yet the range of the submissions overall is ethnically rich (Manuel Gonzales’ Mexican Chocolate Pie!) and occasionally exotic (Shankar Vedantam’s Yashoda’s Potatoes), and some creations are doubtless more difficult to achieve than others (for example, Slatecontributor Jesse Sheidlower’s Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breast Stuffed with Apples and Chestnuts). Donohue cleverly peppers the text with funny, sophisticated cartoons, making Man with a Pan uniquely smart and also very useful. A must-have for kitchen-friendly dads, this volume should reap rewards down the road for family appetites everywhere.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Veteran CBS newsman Jim Axelrod has had an interesting career covering presidents and world events and hobnobbing with broadcast journalism icons like Dan Rather and Ted Koppel. Yet when shifting fortunes at his job filled him with self-doubt, Axelrod went into reflective mode. His resultant book, In the Long Run: A Father, a Son, and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness, is essentially a memoir of his upbringing, adulthood and working life, but the book’s main thrust concerns Axelrod’s sudden and quixotic attempt to match his late father’s running time in the New York Marathon. The senior Axelrod, a lawyer who wreaked some emotional havoc on his own family, serves as focal point for his son, who strives to reconcile their relationship and adopt his father’s achievement-oriented approach to running as a way to reconnect with the past and his memory of a loving man. The middle-aged Axelrod endures some expected physical lumps in getting into shape, but more importantly, his very readable text imparts some heartfelt lessons about the father-son bond.

THE GAME OF LIFE

Author/journalist Steve Friedman also strives to reconnect with Dad, and in his case golf is the activity that must serve as the linking metaphor. Not so easy, though, since the author despised the game growing up, mainly because he saw it as a barrier between him and his father, who played constantly. Friedman’s Driving Lessons: A Father, a Son, and the Healing Power of Golf tells the story of his return to his hometown in the St. Louis suburbs, resolved to learn golf under his father’s tutelage and make the conscious attempt to understand the game—and also dear old Dad. This brief book offers warm, funny and ironic chapters in which we view the author learning to golf—not an easy task, mind you, once you hit a certain age—and assessing his own life and career status, but mainly benefiting from his father’s encouragement and simple life philosophy. Both warm and cautiously unsentimental, Driving Lessons is a welcome little read and a great gift idea.

COMING HOME AT LAST

Finally, in the category of gut-wrenching fatherhood experiences comes A Father’s Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home. Co-authored with Ken Abraham, David Goldman’s personal tale is one of intense confusion, misunderstanding and deep hurt, not to mention a years-long investment of time and money in a battle in international courts to regain custody of his son.

Seemingly happily married in 2004 and the father of young son Sean, former successful model Goldman was stunned to discover that when his Brazilian wife, Bruna Bianchi, left the U.S. for a vacation with their son in her homeland, she had no intention of ever returning. So began Goldman’s five-year nightmare of attempting to have Sean returned to him, a journey of unimaginable heartache and loss in which he encountered stiff legal challenges, negotiated the thicket of long-distance international diplomacy, raised awareness among American government officials and the media, and combated the determined resistance of Bianchi’s Brazilian family, who refused to return Sean to his father even after his mother’s sudden death.

Goldman’s account seems repetitive at times, mainly because there were so many starts and stops in the process, but ultimately his tireless pursuit of Sean—by way of working the complicated legal system and marshaling support from lawyers, high-profile American officials and TV networks—does pay off. His bittersweet reunion with his son, and a sense of hope for their future together, concludes the coverage. The Goldman story gained a fair amount of attention in the States, and this eventful recounting should draw many interested readers.

Fatherhood can be a challenge filled with responsibility, frustration and even pain, when life and relationships don’t go smoothly. But love, hope, pride and a sense of personal reward are the fulfilling part of the deal, and this selection of new titles helps to express the importance of the tie that binds. AT HOME IN […]
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The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a solemn occasion that will be noted by all Americans. Several recent books recall the events of that day, with emphasis on heroism, courage under fire, sacrifice and loss.

WITNESSES TO TRAGEDY

In tandem with Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office, a team of editors has compiled After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed. This compelling collection of reminiscences by survivors of, and witnesses to, 9/11 has particular resonance because the subjects were interviewed first after the attack, and then several years later, as a means of monitoring their post-trauma reactions and behavior. The project’s Q&A approach offers readable access into the feelings—both personal and political—of the respondents, including firefighters and police, surviving family members of victims and residents of Lower Manhattan.

Another volume comes from Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit founded by the relatives and friends of 9/11 victims, which has put together The Legacy Letters, gathering missives written to the deceased victims by their loved ones. With the tragedy now 10 years in the past, these plaintive letters from wives, children, siblings and parents are nonetheless palpably moving, and the poignant expressions of love, hope, regret, sadness and longing serve as stark reminders of the human toll exacted by the brutal attacks.

In a similar vein, but with broader scope, is 9/11: The World Speaks. Compiled by the Tribute WTC Visitor Center and a project of the September 11th Families’ Association, this book compiles the thoughts, prayers and heartfelt ruminations of worldwide visitors to Ground Zero, reproducing the actual note cards and original drawings contributed by the respondents. A paperback with a somewhat ephemeral feel to it, this item is nevertheless a worthy addition to the 10-year commemoration, with a foreword by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and a preface by Tom Brokaw.

STORIES OF HOPE

There are, of course, many noteworthy stories of survival from 9/11, but perhaps none are as stirring as the one related in Angel in the Rubble: The Miraculous Rescue of 9/11’s Last Survivor. Genelle Guzman-McMillan was employed by the New York Port Authority and was working on the North Tower’s 64th floor on September 11, 2001. Her escape from the building following the crash of American Airlines Flight 11 begins almost as a comedy of errors involving misdirection and official confusion. Alas, what should have been a fairly straightforward evacuation turned into a nightmare, and her survival was truly miraculous. She and her colleagues in fact never really escaped from the tower. The building collapsed just as they were nearing the exits, and only Guzman-McMillan survived, discovered alive amid the rubble by rescue workers more than 24 hours later. Guzman-McMillan, along with co-author William -Croyle, crafts a readable account of that ill-fated sequence of events, effectively framing the 9/11 story within the context of her own confused personal life, including her illegal status with the INS. Her story has a happy ending on many fronts and serves to remind us that hope can spring from despair.

Michael Hingson’s 9/11 survival story is unique, to say the least. A salesman beginning a normal workday at the World Trade Center that morning, Hingson happens to be blind, his guide dog, Roselle, ever at his side. In Thunder Dog, Hingson, with a deft assist from co-author Susy Flory, intersperses a solid overview of his life—blind almost from birth—with the tale of his escape from the 78th floor of Tower One. Hingson describes feeling the impact of the plane that morning, the sway of the building, the smell of airplane fuel and his subsequent evacuation with a colleague, traversing some 1,400 stairs to the tenuous safety of the chaotic New York streets below, Roselle determinedly and faithfully leading the way. 

Hingson’s well-written story does more than provide a slice of 9/11 history. Readers will learn enlightening information about the blind experience in general and take away some good advice for how the sighted can better interact with their blind brethren.

MAKING HISTORY

Finally, the 9/11 anniversary has induced two publishers to re–release valuable books on the event. In 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, authors Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn provide a chronological narrative of the dramatic developments at Ground Zero, with focus on the stories of individuals in both towers caught up in the horror and confusion. Originally published in 2005, the latest edition features a new postscript with updates on the lives of some of the people involved in the events.

First published in 2002, when it was rushed into print as a timely summary of 9/11, the reissued What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001, In Words, Pictures, and Video includes the DVD from the original publication plus a new reflective essay by Joe Klein. This package cogently gathers contemporaneous news stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other major print sources; the authors represented include Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd, Howard Kurtz and Pete Hamill, among others. There are also transcripts of CBS News radio and television coverage, and the video disc—narrated by Dan Rather—offers an informative visual look back at the terror and its aftermath.

 

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a solemn occasion that will be noted by all Americans. Several recent books recall the events of that day, with emphasis on heroism, courage under fire, sacrifice and loss. WITNESSES TO TRAGEDY In tandem with Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office, a team of editors has compiled After the […]
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What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys.

HORRIBLY ENTERTAINING
Veteran filmmaker John Landis is the driving force behind the fantastic Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. The focus here is on films that fall into the general categories of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, yet the comprehensive coverage ranges more broadly into related subgenres, such as the occult, fairy tales, dinosaurs and dragons. Landis provides pithy overviews for each subsection, plus captions for the hundreds of captivating classic production photos drawn from the Kobal Collection, a photo archive whose images span the cinematic era, from the earliest days to the latest releases. There are also some cool examples of movie poster art scattered among the visuals. Landis provides worthy interviews with some of the great genre creators (directors, actors, technical wizards), including John Carpenter, Christopher Lee, Rick Baker and the amazing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who is now 91 and still rightfully revered for his achievements as a stop-motion model animator. A delicious romp through the film world, this book provides a nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up a fan of the great horror flicks. Needless to say, it’s a terrific gift item and endlessly browseable.

MAKING A LIST
From the team of ­“infomaniacs” responsible for Show Me How (2008) and More Show Me How (2010) comes Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail. Colorfully designed and illustrated with whimsical cartoons, this major-league browser collects list upon list of straight-ahead traditional subjects (e.g., the Seven Wonders of the World) with many more esoteric but engaging ones, from beauty-queen scandals to strange building materials to dangerous tourist spots. The book’s basic sections are arranged somewhat loosely around human history and behavior, trends, measurements, places, art and entertainment, food and animals, yet its organization invites an all-but-random investigation of its wide-ranging contents. Fun and surprising reading, Listomania is sure to evoke exclamations of “Who knew?” among curious readers.

SALUTING THE DARK KNIGHT
For that certain comic-book superhero buff comes The Batman Files, an impressively priced and imposingly bound tome that celebrates the legend and lore of the Caped Crusader. Author and comic book historian Matthew K. Manning is responsible for pulling together this “archive” that is designed to serve as a replica of Batman’s own personal diary, also including top secret blueprints of his Batcave, Batmobile, uniforms and weapons; newspaper clippings from Gotham City, dating back to the murder of alter ego Bruce Wayne’s parents; plus in-depth dossiers on the Dark Knight’s nefarious opponents, among them the Riddler, Penguin, Joker and Mr. Freeze. The origins of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, are also detailed. Besides its “insider” textual approach, this collector’s-item-type package also reprints dozens and dozens of color panels extracted from the comics themselves, which showcase an interesting sense of the development of artistic style in the depiction of the Batman stories, first conceptualized by Bob Kane more than 70 years ago. This is the ultimate gift item for the inveterate Batman fan.

THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Sports books almost always make winning gifts for guys, and Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest offers a compelling panoramic view of a sport that receives less coverage than it deserves. Produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian, and with an engrossing text written chiefly by Ed Douglas (with an assist from Richard Gilbert, Philip Parker and Alasdair Macleod), this volume uncovers a death-defying world rich with history and populated by determined, often idiosyncratic personalities, both male and female, who dedicate their lives to scaling the world’s highest mountain peaks. The photos alone are worth the book’s price, but the story told of mountain climbing’s development, its cultural and scientific importance, and its growth as an international competitive endeavor is equally valuable. There are fascinating sidebars on sherpas, innovations in equipment, pertinent books and movies, plus the big mountain peaks (Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Matterhorn, etc.). More compelling, however, are the profiles of the climbers themselves—a contentious breed apart, often loners—who risk death with every summit they take on. Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner are perhaps the most recognizable names here, but learning about their somewhat lesser-known equals is both educational and thrilling.

RIDING THE RAILS
Trains formerly held the fascination of men and boys on a wide scale. While times have changed, and trains are lower-profile symbols of commerce and travel, they still attract interest, and Steam: An Enduring Legacy—The Railroad Photographs of Joel Jensen serves as proof. Jensen has been photographing trains and rail stations west of the Mississippi River for some 25 years, and this long-overdue collection of his work features black-and-white shots that capture the bygone majesty and sense of history inspired by these steam-powered machines, preserved and operated in the latter-day era by dedicated rail-fans. Besides the 150 photos, there are essays by John Gruber and Scott Lothes—both of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art—examining the economics and cultural importance of trains in America.

PICTURES FROM THE FRONT
Finally, in a nod to the Greatest Generation, comes A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II, which gathers the letters and sketches from the World War II experiences of young G.I. Joseph Farris, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Division in Europe. Farris, now in his 80s, went on to become a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and throughout his transformation from naive enlisted man to battle-tested vet, he was honing his craft as an artist, as the samples from his youthful wartime work attest. Besides the many letters home to his folks—from his days in basic training through his return to the States—Farris also provides a contextual narrative on the war’s progress. Also included are battle maps, poster art and archival photos portraying Farris and his buddies, the soldier’s life in general and some of the war’s leaders and generals. A Soldier’s Sketchbook offers a visually captivating perspective on WWII, as seen through the eyes of one young infantryman.

What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys. HORRIBLY ENTERTAININGVeteran filmmaker […]
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With the nation’s population aging at an unprecedented rate, three new books help seniors (and near-seniors) get a jump on the physical and emotional challenges of growing older.

Alzheimer’s disease is undoubtedly the affliction of aging that scares people the most. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, offers a proactive approach to dealing with this concern in The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life, co-written with his wife Gigi Vorgan. The text offers an overview of Alzheimer’s research and the physiology of the disease. Yet the main focus is on physical regimens and mental exercises designed to promote good overall health, to reduce stress and, most critically, to strengthen memory and reinforce mental acuity in ways that might help to stave off the Alzheimer’s threat. The book also includes diet recommendations, tips about drug interaction and handy health-related Q&As. According to the authors, “this program will . . . help you feel better and delay Alzheimer’s disease longer.” Given the stakes, it’s certainly worth a try.

A potential companion volume for the age-conscious is The Baby Boomer Diet: Body Ecology’s Guide to Growing Younger. Nutritional consultant Donna Gates aims to combine the best ideas from conventional medicine with alternative therapies, and in this ample guidebook she tailors her already established Body Ecology Diet to the needs of older folks. The coverage is inclusive, with information on everything from teas, wines and water to cancer-fighting grains and “healing” condiments. Gates also addresses issues such as cooked foods versus raw, the dangers of fat, the truth about iodine and the importance of certain fruits as anti-oxidants. Overall, Gates’ recommendations encourage restorative effects on the digestive, immune and endocrine systems, though sticking with the program would be a timely (and costly) pursuit for the average person. A pertinent shopping list is included, with recommendations of specific brand-name products.

For social worker Wendy Lustbader, the glass is half-full where aging is concerned. Her Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older is a sensitively written collection that stresses the liberating aspects of aging. Lustbader’s observations are divided into sections—loss, spirituality, courage, etc.—and each anecdote illustrates a perspective on living enhanced by the passage of time. Lustbader’s goal is to present aging as a challenging and invigorating adventure, and she succeeds in inspiring seniors to move forward with confidence.

With the nation’s population aging at an unprecedented rate, three new books help seniors (and near-seniors) get a jump on the physical and emotional challenges of growing older. Alzheimer’s disease is undoubtedly the affliction of aging that scares people the most. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, offers a proactive approach to dealing […]
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Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered.

REACHING FOR THE SKY

From the publisher of last fall’s wonderful Mountaineers comes another richly illustrated volume that merges information on the lives of remarkable individuals with useful descriptions of their great achievements. Engineers, edited by Adam Hart-Davis, focuses on familiar names such as Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other world-renowned innovators whose work dramatically changed human lives. But the coverage here—reaching back to the ancient world and through the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, all the way to the Space Age—also extols many lesser known originators of essential engineering feats. The subject matter is far-ranging—aqueducts, ships, steam engines, electricity, airships, the automobile, architecture—in other words, any discipline that falls under the book’s titular category. Besides its plentiful photos and drawings, the text is loaded with informative sidebars and timelines. The technically inclined dad will love it.

LET’S GET COOKING

It’s hard to imagine cooking as an extreme sport, but that’s what we find in Daniel Duane’s How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession. Duane is a Bay Area surfer-dude and writer whose entry into the world of fatherhood inspired him to play adventurous chef to his wife and two daughters. He embraces haute cuisine like an ancient warrior, inspired mainly by cookbook author and restaurateur Alice Waters, who happened to be Duane’s preschool teacher many years before. Duane eventually encounters Waters again when she hires him as a writer, but that episode is tangential to his epic crusade through thousands of recipes over an eight-year period. Specific food preps are recounted in some detail, but what Duane does with, say, duck fat, turnips, wild truffles or a whole cow stashed in his freezer is secondary to his fanatical Zen-like food rap and its effects on those around him. The book’s unexpected highlight: the description of a simple egg dish Waters whips up for Duane on the fly—served with a glass of Domaine de Fontsainte rosé.

THREE OF GOLF’S GREATEST

Veteran golf writer James Dodson’s American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf blends social history with biography, focusing on the game’s somewhat shaky mid-20th-century status, when its growth was hampered by the Depression and World War II. Golf’s saviors emerge with Snead, Nelson and Hogan, each born in 1912 and all achieving superstar status, their lively competitions helping to sustain the game’s popularity and eventually spurring a postwar period of prosperity in which tournaments became more plentiful and the purses much larger. Dodson makes the case that this trio provided the historical bridge to the ever-more-prosperous eras of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. More so, his authoritative prose profiles three distinctly different individuals—the gentlemanly Nelson, the maverick Snead and the somewhat misunderstood Hogan—whose love of the game was complete and whose career paths were unavoidably intertwined.

LONG DISTANCE JOURNEY

Scott Jurek is an ultramarathoner whose exploits were profiled in the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. Now this amazing runner tells his own story in Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramara­thon Greatness. With co-writer Steve Friedman, Jurek charts his difficult early life in rural Minnesota, where his mother was ravaged by multiple sclerosis and family dynamics were always challenging. Yet somehow he soldiered on, finishing college, becoming a physical therapist and, most importantly, finding fulfillment as a runner. Achievement in “shorter” marathons led to success in more grueling races, chiefly the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trek that Jurek won seven straight times. While his personal story is inspiring, the book also focuses on Jurek’s transition to a completely vegan diet. Recipes are included, as are training tips for amateur runners who want to step up their game.

RIDING HIGH

Humorist Dan Zevin, a 40-something father of two, finds himself totally digging his new wheels in Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad. “Have I told you my minivan has a built-in DVD player?” he gushes, as he embarks on his Brooklyn-based “Mr. Mom” phase. That’s a term Zevin strenuously objects to, but when your wife’s a New York City publishing bigshot and you’re the one hiring nannies. . . . Anyway, Dan’s a modern guy and a very funny writer—so as he narrates the family trip to Disney World, relates his experiences learning tennis and the guitar, relives his court date when he’s cited for not cleaning up after his dog, etc., other dads (and moms) will find plenty of humor in his misadventures. Besides philosophizing on changing priorities and other midlife concerns, Dan also has some endearing moments with his own dad, and those passages are justification enough for this entertaining volume’s Father’s Day relevance.

SUPERHERO TRIVIA

Finally, we have Brian Cronin’s Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?, which should prove a popular gift for anyone who ever curled up with a comic book. From Batman and Robin to Archie and Jughead, comic book characters have a unique pop history that spans generations. Superfan and blogger Cronin pays homage through dozens of entertaining lists of names (e.g., “Fifteen Alliterative Comic Book Names Created by Stan Lee”), storylines (e.g., “Five Most Iconic Panels in Marvel Comics History”), cultural impact (“Six Bob Dylan References in Comic Books”), TV and movie trivia (“Four Interesting Ways That Actors Lost Out on Superhero Roles”) and more. If it all sounds deliciously geeky, it is.

Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered. REACHING FOR THE SKY From the publisher of last […]
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The Olympics may sneak up on its intended audience—that is, the entire world—but once the Games are in full swing, our attention matches their intensity. Warm up by exploring the fascinating history of this quadrennial athletic extravaganza.

THE FIRST MARATHON

London is the only city to host the Olympics three times, having done so previously in 1908 and 1948. Journalist David Davis’ Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush relates the story of three men who arrived at the 1908 Games to compete in the first modern Olympic marathon. Johnny Hayes was an Irish scrapper from the streets of New York City, Dorando Pietri a candymaker from Italy, and Tommy Longboat a Native American by way of Canada. All three men had humble roots, and the account of their race is gripping, including the contentious outcome.

Yet Davis’ book is also a profile of a time—when the Olympics had only recently been resuscitated and when sports in general were beginning to attract rabid spectator interest. “London 1908 serves as the blueprint for subsequent Olympics,” Davis writes. “They were the first to involve national squads. . . . They were the first to have an Opening Ceremony, with each country’s team marching en masse, and the first to feature a newly built, state-of-the-art stadium.” It was also the first Olympiad to be extensively photographed and filmed, setting a precedent that has never wavered.

HOOP STARS

The U.S. Olympic basketball squad of 1992—led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird—vanquished its opponents with a virtual flick of their talented wrists. Longtime Sports Illustrated staffer Jack McCallum puts their accomplishments in perspective in Dream Team, which provides the history of how the team came to be, but also benefits mightily from the author’s updated interviews with the principals.

The Dream Team was untouchable on the court, and one can argue that this Olympic episode had more to do with promotion than the spirit of Olympic competition. But more interesting than the basketball dominance are the behind-the-scenes politics that spawned this particular collection of players. McCallum brings events vividly to life—including the concerns about Magic’s recent HIV diagnosis and Charles Barkley’s off-the-court antics—and effectively gets inside the heads of his famous subjects, exposing their egos and occasional insecurities. McCallum writes with energy, and his book is way more riveting than, say, Michael & Co.’s 117-85 drubbing of Croatia in the Gold Medal game.

FOR ARMCHAIR WARRIORS

Finally, British writers David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton smartly serve up How to Watch the Olympics. This handbook, with its fast facts and useful overviews of the many events, plus its thumbnail portraits of past Olympic performers, should rest comfortably on the easy chair, ready for quick access as the TV broadcasts commence.

The Olympics may sneak up on its intended audience—that is, the entire world—but once the Games are in full swing, our attention matches their intensity. Warm up by exploring the fascinating history of this quadrennial athletic extravaganza. THE FIRST MARATHON London is the only city to host the Olympics three times, having done so previously […]

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