Part auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detract...morePart auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detraction to his own book De Lance factor. Why a detraction? Because Mart Smeets, a respected figure in the Dutch sports media and a long-lasting leading figure in NOS's De Avondetappe, has written kindly about Lance Armstrong just before the latter's admission of systematic doping.
Overall, I found the book too shallow, too opinionated, too poorly structured to like. But, as always with Martje, full of good banter. Too bad the topic is so serious.
Gepakt starts with a discussion about the role of Mart Smeets in the aftermath of Lance's revelations -- retracting the book (from the nomination to a prestigious Dutch literature award, no less), hiding from the media for a while, being subject to criticism and sometimes even aggression for much longer. Mart claims not having known, not having been able to know, and having fallen for the "he looked me in the eyes and told me he has not doped!" This bio theme is recurrent in his writing, sometimes benign, as when Mart emphasizes his own role in uncovering other cases of doping, sometimes in the form of an aggressive "but why didn't the other media reporters find it?" It's all good, but not the reason I bought the book for.
What I did want to read about it Mart Smeets take on the generalized, systemic doping (and other forms of cheating) in the peloton. There is plenty of material there, including short stories on Zabel, Contador, Riccardo Ricco, Mario Cipolinni, Steven de Jongh, Rasmussen and Rabobank, Franck Schleck, George Hincapie, and Lance Armstrong. But nothing out of ordinary, nothing we wouldn't know about. Perhaps only the (unproven) suspicions about the political reason for which Lance was struck down and about technical doping committed by Fabian Cancellara. There is also material that could be a short history of cycling, focused on the Dutch teams, and anecdotes about some of the greater cyclists who were never caught (in particular Indurain, but also Cadel Evans).(less)
You don't get much more straightforward, as an autobiography, than Alex Ferguson's My Autobiography. This is the autobiography I've wanted for a long,...moreYou don't get much more straightforward, as an autobiography, than Alex Ferguson's My Autobiography. This is the autobiography I've wanted for a long, long time to read and that turned out really, really disappointing.
Overall, don't buy and don't read this tabloid-like book. I know I was disappointed, and Sir Alex Ferguson is my football hero.
Alex is my hero manager: Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scot who won for Manchester United everything there was to win, consistently, over 26 years. Alex who took Liverpool off their *$%#$ perch. Alex who created an attacking team out of dozens of hard-working but rarely talented players. Alex whom I've always played in football management games. A remarkable career, this lad has had.
In twenty-five chapters, Sir Ferguson (aided by the Daily Telegraph's chief writer) rambles on a variety of topics, with chapters named aptly such as Beckham, Keane, van Nistelrooy, Rooney, Mourinho, Liverpool, Barcelona, etc. But don't get fooled by the titles; each chapter is a ramble on its own, in every direction possible. Think you're gettin' Rio, lad? No, you're getting dirt on Graeme Hogg, praise for and dirt on Pallister, and an ending about Alex's own view on racism. There's plenty more in this book in terms of dirt, rambling, and Alex's one-line and incredibly insensitive zingers about the deep areas of life.
I also disliked how self-servient this book is. Sir Ferguson pretty much declares himself right, always the brain or intuition behind each great move, always the victim of bad transfers, unapologetic and defensive about every possible side (this, when the book is rife with dirt spread on others). A hatchet job and show of poor character, this.
Every summer, millions of Dutch vakantiezoekers invade the parcours of the Tour de France, which is the most important road-biking competition and one...moreEvery summer, millions of Dutch vakantiezoekers invade the parcours of the Tour de France, which is the most important road-biking competition and one of the most attended sports events in the world. As suggested by others (Dealing with the Dutch, The Undutchables), these visitors seem fun-loving, sometimes impolite, almost always beer-guzzling. But how are the Dutch professionals in the Tour? Dertig terugblik op dertig jaar Tour de France provides this answer. Overall, this was for me an excellent, albeit a bit dated, anthropological study of Dutch coureurs, commentators, and even regular people.
In this book, Mart Smeets looks back at an impressive career as a Tour commentator for NOS, and two categories of professionals: the other commentators (from colleagues to competitors), and the coureurs and their support cast (from mechanics to team leaders). The storyline is perhaps missing, but the details of each individual story are mostly interesting. (Warning: to like this, you need to be interested either in the culture of the Tour or in the Dutch when not at home. I was interested in both.)
The strong point of this book is the amount of detail. Smeets remembers everything from everywhere---except when he avoids disclosing some doping-related or affair-related information---, and tells us about sexism, forbidden relations, doping, hedonism, etc. For the knowledgeable, there's Jan Raas, Theunisse, Joost Zoetemelk, Erik Breukink, Indurain, Greg LeMond, and many, many others. For the scandal lover, there's the Ischa Meijer interview, the Priem/TVM affairs, and lots and lots of doping quotes. There's also an admission to having seen syringes and having first-hand knowledge about the spread of the phenomenon.
For me, there was a second interesting element of the book: the description of the common Dutch person of Catholic origins facing the world. Being always right, and comically resisting homosexual advances but enjoying sexual exploits with female doctors, is an important part of "being Mart Smeets", but other traits are perhaps more of the Dutch-of-the-1980s. The opinionated, stubbornly correct Smeets is talking shop with foreign colleagues, commenting and gossiping about everything, drinking and partying with measure ("geniet, maar met mate"), categorizing every other culture from the first-impression, resisting women in becoming professionals, and reveling in being recognized abroad.
I also enjoyed the language, which is dense, colloquial, sprinkled with (idiomatic) expressions, and full of expletives. It was for me a difficult read, with confusing and sometimes indecipherable passages, but worthwhile and, I think, representative for a certain part of the Dutch population.
What I disliked most was that the book makes little pretense at being literature. It is poorly structured, does not follow a chronological or logical sequence, focuses several chapters on the same detail (TVM/Priem), and sometimes just dumps paragraph after paragraph of name-laden information. The heavy focus on the mid-1980s (about three-quarters of the material) does not help. Editing the material to about half and adding a more balanced coverage of three decades in the Tour would have greatly improved the published version.
The other part I did not particularly like was, for me surprisingly, Mart Smeets the man. I have enjoyed his NOS commentary on the Tour for several years and have found him enjoyable and savvy, capable of alternating tactful and aggressive questions. In this book, he is always aggressive, unable and unwilling to apologize, even simply arrogant and vain. Perhaps it was my Dutch.(less)
Finishing this book, I was left with ... not much. The Jordan Rules should have been, according to the media sensation it created when published, a st...moreFinishing this book, I was left with ... not much. The Jordan Rules should have been, according to the media sensation it created when published, a storm of disclosure about a hypocrite player (Jordan) and his sycophants (headed by the new coach, Phil Jackson). It turned out to be thick gossip and well-storified sportscast. I already knew the scores and the match drama, and found the gossip willingly exaggerated and in general unprovable. There is not much to say, really, other than you'd do much better with Phil Jackson's books, seemingly much mor truthful albeit well-manicured. There.(less)
This latest installment of Phil Jackson's war stories presents his sports career, first as a double NBA champion with the New York Knicks, then as an...moreThis latest installment of Phil Jackson's war stories presents his sports career, first as a double NBA champion with the New York Knicks, then as an eleven-time NBA champion (the current record) with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant's LA Lakers. The book covers this phenomenal career, but also focuses on Phil Jackson's life philosophy--a combination of Zen Buddhism, Native American (animist? tribal?) beliefs, and bits and pieces of common sense. Overall, good for fans of Phil Jackson's work, but rather repetitive and presumptuous.
The eleven championship-winning and the several unsuccessful runs are described at very high level. Jackson focuses on one, maybe two key moments---a match, a shot---for each. What I liked here was the selection of the moment, which would have avoided most anyone not amidst the team, and the discussion about selling the job to the bunch of superstar, alpha characters in the team. Jackson admits to mistakes and dissects his failures, and passes managerial judgment on many of his former players and associates. There is nothing particularly explosive, although the treatment of Jordan (admiration) and Kobe (love/hate) reveals much of Jackson the man.
The technical discussion about the triangle offense, a trademark of Jackson's basketball strategy---is unfortunately not developed enough and thus a let down. The philosophical part of the book is even more superficial and could perhaps have better been left out of this book entirely.(less)
Having read Sacred Hoops, I knew a bit about the philosophy about life and basketball of Phil Jackson---it's "Zen plus 1980s American equals winning,...moreHaving read Sacred Hoops, I knew a bit about the philosophy about life and basketball of Phil Jackson---it's "Zen plus 1980s American equals winning, baby". I was thus interested to read about his book on the losing season, albeit in the NBA Finals, with the talented Lakers team of the 2003-2004. The Last Season has bits about them all: the passion, the travails, the fratricide, the loss.
Before discussing the book, a bit of (NBA) basketball history is needed. Prior to "the last season", Phil Jackson gained the reputation of an old-school basketball trainer (no-nonsense, obeying the rules of the basketball gods play) with a "no prisoners" philosophy (his winning relationship with the Chicago Bulls ended acrimoniously, with the then-general manager Jerry Krause refusing to re-hire Jackson after Jackson refused to acknowledge Krause's contribution to the victories.) Jackson was also known for his way of interpreting his religion of maturity, Zen Buddhism, as a basketball philosophy; his triangle offense was, in his opinion, a way to follow the Zen path. This basketball strategy offers good opportunities for each player on the court and rewards patient play; thus, it is rare in the NBA, where most teams play exclusively for their superstar player and athleticism (speed of play) are considered the major attraction. Before joining the Lakers, Jackson acquired six titles with a team starring Michael Jordan, whom he was able to convince to submit to the rigors of the triangle offense. With the Lakers, Jackson had the opportunity to coach Kobe Bryant, a young gun considered then Jordan-calibre, and Shaquille O'Neill, the superstar of the league at the peak of his powers. However, the triangle offense was difficult to accept for these two superstars; after three consecutive championships, the team lost in the Conference Semi-Finals to a weaker but better-integrated team (the San Antonio Spurs), in the 2002-2003 season.
The 2003-2004 season was to confirm or destroy Jackson's reputation as a team-maker. Will Kobe become part of the team? Will Shaq agree to play second-fiddle to Kobe? Will the team continue to sacrifice if the two superstars were not contributing their share? The Last Season answers these and many other questions. Jackson does not spare his arrows, and tells us about how Bryant was uncoachable, Shaq was lazy, the team's general manager a schemer, the team owner ungrateful, etc. (All these form the less interesting part of the book.) He also tells us of the atmosphere in the team in the aftermath of Koby's rape scandal, of dealing with the numerous injuries, of the work ethic of the two all-star additions to the team (Karl Malone and Gary Payton), of his decisions on and off the court, of his relationship with the media, of his personal life. Oh, and about the loss in the finals to another underdog...
Overall, it was an interesting, albeit rather gossipy, read from the core of the game. Thumbs up! (less)
Inspired by Levitt's Freakonomics, Soccernomics is yet another book about ... wait ... it's the first book that tries to datamine everything about soc...moreInspired by Levitt's Freakonomics, Soccernomics is yet another book about ... wait ... it's the first book that tries to datamine everything about soccer (ahm, football.) Two authors with affinity for football and statistics have embarked in the eternal game of showing that you can prove anything you want with unverified data and faulty methods. Much as in the case of Freakonomics, I disliked the results: using the method of this work (regression of multiple rather thin and shaky datasets), you could with high probability "prove" that the height of the waves at the shores of the Channel Straight is the main reason for which England fails to win major football competitions. This being said, the authors ask many right questions, find many interesting datasets, and even manage to present some reasonable findings. This and the topic save an otherwise pretty faulty (and thus annoying) book. In fact, I even enjoyed this more than Freakonomics, as the topic is so unserious that an unserious method might just do. Long story short: readable and in part interesting. (less)
Serena Williams's autobiography On the Line is one of the best sports biographies I've read. The story not only reveals a great deal of information on...moreSerena Williams's autobiography On the Line is one of the best sports biographies I've read. The story not only reveals a great deal of information on how the world of tennis is structured, but also gives a surprisingly sincerely-sounding account of her own trials and tribulations. In comparison with Peter Sampras's autobiography, Serena's talks much more about the youth of a tennis player, both as a radiography of the system and as an account of the feelings of an ambitious kid. Serena is not shy to talk about her ambitions (wanting to always be #1), her trouble with American audiences concerning allegations of racist abuse, and concerns over match-fixing between her and her sister. She also talks about her involvement with charity, including her help to children in Africa. Albeit not very challenging intellectually, a good and refreshing read. Thumbs up! (less)
[I finished this book two days before [author:John Wooden] departed, and I just couldn't bring myself then to write this review until now, almost two...more[I finished this book two days before [author:John Wooden] departed, and I just couldn't bring myself then to write this review until now, almost two months later.]
They Call Me Coach is a book about life and basketball, written by the Hall of Fame player and coach John Wooden. The book covers his playing years and (mostly) the coaching career, especially with the UCLA Bruins. The strict yet kind life philosophy of John Wooden is impressed in almost every line, and served him well in completing thirty years on the bench, creating a ten-championships/four undefeated seasons legacy at UCLA, and coaching Lewis Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. The book also describes his Pyramid of Success, Wooden's philosophical take on how to be successful. Overall, a nice book by a good man.(less)
Game Boys is a romanticized story of the rise of professional computer gaming around the mid-2000s. On the positive side, it is a story about young ad...moreGame Boys is a romanticized story of the rise of professional computer gaming around the mid-2000s. On the positive side, it is a story about young adults who are having a dream job as cyberathletes, that is, professional players of computer games (the term is chosen to resemble that of athlete.) Focused mostly on the competition between two top Counter-Strike (CS) teams, the story grows into depicting many traits of sportsmanship, such as greed, ambition, unity, honor, and competitiveness. The reader also learns about a world in which the lack of sponsors leads to cut-throat and dictatorial managerial practices, about minor and major CS tournaments, and about the creation of a corporate side of the professional game. On the negative side, the writing is dull and wordy. Overall, a very interesting topic and a good story, with poor writing.(less)
When the Game Was Ours is your typical account of the lives of great sportsmen, in this case the basketballers Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry "Birdm...moreWhen the Game Was Ours is your typical account of the lives of great sportsmen, in this case the basketballers Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry "Birdman" Bird. The couple dominated the American basketball from the early 1980s until the early 1990s. During this time, they earned cumulatively eight NBA championship rings with their respective teams Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics and six individual Most Valuable Player trophies. The book feeds on the remarkable relationship and rivalry between the players: they were of different color but similar backgrounds, played opposite styles of basketball but won each similar awards, Magic became HIV-positive, etc. However, the dull writing threatens to cancel out the immersion into the intriguing universe of top athletes. Overall, poor writing but a fantastic real story. Your call.(less)
A Champion's Mind is the auto-biography of Pete Sampras, who is one of the top tennis players of all-time; Sampras is still (in 2009) the only player...moreA Champion's Mind is the auto-biography of Pete Sampras, who is one of the top tennis players of all-time; Sampras is still (in 2009) the only player to have been ranked #1 in the world for six consecutive years, and the holder of the second-most wins of Grand Slams (the highest ranked world tennis tournaments) after Roger Federer. The book reflects well Sampras' self-description, that is, it is a solid, no-frills account of a super-consistent tennis career. In particular, there aren't many surprises in the story, and the writing style is average. One of the nice questions Sampras asks and attempts to answer is: how to maintain a top professional level for a long period of time? Overall, a nice read in between airplanes, but not more.(less)