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Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life
Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life
by James Blake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A gem amongst the usual tennis bios..., 17 Nov. 2011
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As a fan of all sports, I confess that tennis is my favourite of all. Having read many books on the legends of the game, I was keen to read this book on James Blake - a player who never won the big titles; arguably not living up to his potential.

The book reveals however just what level of ordeal Blake had to face in his time as a tennis professional - phyisical and emotional difficulties that made me realise he was lucky to even remain on the tour, let alone win any further titles. This is an honest, and full acoount of Blake's career up until 2008, and although this may hold increased appeal for real tennis fans, it is recommended for anyone interested in reading about sporting triumph over real adversity.


Nemesis
Nemesis
by Philip Roth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.27

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A stirring, yet uncomplicated novella, 16 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Nemesis (Hardcover)
This is the first Philip Roth book I have read, having seen the BBC2's 'Review Show' cover this in typical highbrow fashion.

The tale is set during WWII, within Newark, New Jersey. The central plot is an outbreak of Polio that affects the community, especially the children who are within the protagonists care (a Summer camp sports instructor).

The unknown (at the time) enemy, or indeed 'nemesis', is at first glance the Polio outbreak itself. Roth uses simple interactions between characters brilliantly, particularly between the many children that feature in the story. Nothing really complex arises in the book, but that is what makes it so good. I find it hard to explain without resorting to ethereal pseudo-intellectualisations; but, in straightforward language, Roth tells a richly evocative story - one which during many junctures, I could feel the balmy NJ Summer heat, sense the fear of the Newark residents, feel the wistful stolen nights of the protagonists Summer Camp escapades with his girlfriend, and feel genuine sadness during the latter part of the book. The Polio threat remains constant to all-comers and keeps the suspense dynamic throughout the story.

A dark story with intriguing characters, I would definitely recommend this book.


Human Behaviour: Bjork - The Stories Behind Every Song
Human Behaviour: Bjork - The Stories Behind Every Song
by Ian Gittins
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent and detailed discography on everyone's favourite Icelander, 16 Nov. 2011
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As a big Björk fan, this book was a no-brainer. I enjoyed the descriptions and explanations of Björk's canon, and there was a lot of trivia I was unaware of. The book also covers in some depth her collaborations and dabblings - although bizarrely, it misses (unless I haven't seen it mentioned) her involvement in Plaid's 'Not For Threes' album.

The book does exactly what you would expect, and is a must for all Björk fans. Writing abjectively though, I feel four stars is fair because the book is not exactly designed to appeal to anyone who is indifferent or unkeen on Ms. Gušmundsdóttir. It can be a little biased in places as well.

Covering everything from pre-Sugarcubes to Vespertine (the book is a 2002 publication), and everything inbetween, this is a great read for those who have followed Björk and have loved her different, varied and interesting career.


Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts
by Julian Rubinstein
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true story? No-one could have made this up!, 16 Nov. 2011
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I only came across this book by randomly searching for something that covered the Eastern-European pre/post-communism era of the 80s/90s. The moment I read within the blurb about a Romanian in Hungary robbing banks while drunk, I thought to myself 'sold'!

This book covers the unbelievable life of Attila Ambrus, and his escapades which are pretty well summed up by the lengthy book title. The book also gives us a good insight into the state of Romania and Hungary at that time, and how life was beginning to change post-communist occupation. The factual information on Eastern Europe sets the backdrop brilliantly for how Mr. Ambrus was able to carry out his lifestyle, succeed, and ultimately transcend life as a criminal and become a much-loved celebrity.

As others have mentioned in previous reviews, sometimes the glorification of Ambrus' antics can lose sight of how serious his actions were, but Julian Rubinstein can be forgiven for this as even some of Ambrus' victims have reminisced about what a legend he is!

A fantastic tale, and a real one-off. I have never read a biographical account of any person that comes close to resembling the intriguing life of Attila Ambrus. If you enjoy reading, and you enjoy a good tale - which is about 99.7% of the population - then go forth and read this book!!!


Tim Henman: England's Finest
Tim Henman: England's Finest
by Simon Felstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Statistically complete, but not enough insight, 16 Nov. 2011
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Tim Henman is a former sportsperson who seems to garner a fair bit of derision in his native United Kingdom. Usually, this abasement emanates from British armchair tennis pundits who only take note of the ATP tour once a year when they unfairly berate Henman for never winning Wimbledon, or indeed any other Grand Slam. The fact that Henman's career years encompassed the domination of arguably the two greatest grass-court players in history is lost on his detractors; as is the depth of field on the ATP tour during his years of competition. The wonderful 'Duel For the Crown' book looked at the parallels of Henman and Rusedski's years between 1995 and 1998; However, I was very keen to read Simon Felstein's book on Henman, as among other things, it was a sole look at Henman and also covers his career year in slams of 2004.

Unfortunately, although the book is a brilliant career reference of Henman's progress as a tennis player, and does feature much in the way of direct quotes and thoughts, the book does not really offer much insight into the pressures Tim was under, and his feelings at some of the near misses (2001 Wimbledon semi-final in particular). The book does come-off as slightly mechanical, especially towards the end, where his last couple of seasons on the tour are rushed in descriptive coverage. Detractors will scoff and suggest the lack of insight and opinion will reflect Henman's personality I suppose. But the fact is, as revealed in 'Duel For the Crown', Henman hid a lot of personal feeling from public view. I was left very disappointed that we did not get more analysis of Tim in Felstein's book.

Fans of Tim Henman (those of us who can remember screaming at our TVs in the aformentioned Wimbledon semi-final especially!) will no doubt get something out of this book, as I did. But if you want to know more about Tim as a person, and how he received his rivals, compatriots, and life under British expectation in more detail, I would recommend instead 'Duel For the Crown', despite the 1999 truncation of his career to the point that book was published.


Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
by Jeremy Schaap
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting mix of sport and politics, 15 Nov. 2011
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I bought this book not knowing a huge amount about Jesse Owens; only the staple information that he won four gold medals in 1936 and the consequent impact of his victory in the face of Hitler's ideals. Aside from other bits of information that, among other sources, I read in Carl Lewis' book 'Inside Track', that was about all I knew of this sporting legend.

Jeremy Schaap's book is a good balance of the travails of Jesse Owens leading up to the 1936 games; including his then-rivals in the sprints/broad jump (long jump), his coaching, and development as an athletic star and bona fide celebrity despite the racial prejudice which infested the USA at the time. This is intertwined with the grandiose ambitions of Hitler and his associates in stamping their authority in the games, and their intention to do so long after 1936.

The book gives a very good insight into the double standards of the American government and sporting bodies at the time, particularly in the middle of the book where we learn the potential US boycott of the 1936 games was a very real possibility.

Whilst the book doesn't exactly give much personal opinion on Owens, it does give real depth to the impact of both his participation and his subsequent achievements. Schaap, on the whole, gives a very good balance to all aspects of the Owens' story, without over-indulging either the athlete or the ideals.

I personally enjoyed the book immensely; however, potential buyers should be aware that more politics and historical social commentary is present than in the vast majority of books on notable sportspeople. If you don't mind the frequent history lessons - which do serve to put Owens' games in context - then I would recommend this book without reservation. Those only interested in tales of sporting prowess may find difficulty digesting much of this work.


Race Against Me: My Story
Race Against Me: My Story
by Dwain Chambers
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about athletics (but were afraid to ask!), 1 Nov. 2011
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For some time I wanted to get hold of this book, as it has long been out of stock on Amazon (sort it out, fellas!) - I did eventually get it of course and I was not disappointed. For anyone who holds the belief that athletes who use drugs are the minority, reading even a third of this book will blow those perceptions out of the water.

I have read several athlete's biographies, and most give an obligatory mention or idealistic speech on drugs within the sport. I knew, based on Dwain's full and frank admissions around the time of his positive test, that this book would delve fully into the greedy, organised, and ultimately pitiful world of performancing enhancing 'pharmacology'.

The book doesn't waste much time in getting to Chambers' period of running under the influence. I was startled - and gripped - on many occasions by how honest and detailed Chambers was in explaining not only his own drug use, but the involvement of both Victor Conte and his Ukranian coach, and other athletes participation in the BALCO-produced supplements. It was alarming to see just what Chambers and others were taking, combined with the regimen involved, and the levels of consumption. Chambers also reveals side-effects, and how one can spot drug-users by their physique (more detailed than it sounds), their ailments and most sickeningly of all, their tricks to avoid random testing out-of-competition. The book also clearly puts to bed the common misconceptions of drug use - most notably, that the bulk of ingestion is not done within competitive events but actually during the off-season (when testing is at it's least vigilant - or at least this was the case in 2009), and the distinction between drugs that enhance training and stamina with those used as stimulants.

Chambers may at times veer into a little bit of a victim mentality, but then each time he does very quickly assume full responsibility of his own actions. However, despite his much publicised drug use, it is apparent that he HAS been treated unfairly - particularly when one considers the other UK athletes in the fold (both past and present) who have had similar bans overturned, and coaches who have freely administered drug usage in the old Eastern Block who are now part of the UK set-up. I did, despite not having any particular allegiance to Dwain Chambers, feel very sorry for him while reading this book - Dwain himself states effectively that he could cope with bans and punishment if it was equal across the board within the UK association - but it is far from equal and at times, laughably hypocritical.

For me though, as an athletics fan, the book had other significant ramifications. I realised, that as far back as Carl Lewis, The only 100m sprint Olympic champions to not be implicated in drug usage are Donovan Bailey and Usain Bolt - Lewis, Johnson, Greene, Montgomery, Christie and Gatlin have all been tainted to varying degrees. And the problem now for me, as someone who loves athletics, is that it is all too obvious just how flooded the sport is with drugs, because of how this book examines the frankly overwhelming evidence to support this view.

I found the book largely inspirational - Chambers may not have won any Olympic golds, but his perseverance against repeated disappointments both on and off the track is worthy of serious respect. Some of course will say Chambers has got his just deserts, but I disagree - he has served his ban, he was honest and co-operative about his use (as opposed to the old cold-medicine excuses etc.) and has tried to simply get what other athletes in similar situations have been allowed in the past, namely forgiveness and the chance to run clean.

A really good book, and a must for anyone who really wants to know what goes on in the sport.


The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop
The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop
by Bill Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A simply unbelievable & heartbreaking story, 6 Oct. 2011
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I have read many, many sports biographies. Many, even if well-written, rarely affect one's emotions. I finished this book yesterday and was close to tears by the end of it.

The subject of the book, long-distance runner John Tarrant, had such persistently bad misfortune that despite his apparent pig-headedness and his lack of emotion, you cannot help but feel pity as the book charts his life story. Not all doom and gloom by any means - the book is ultimately a moral in the triumph of unwavering spirit - but it does make the reader aware of just what level of hardship Mr. Tarrant endured from cradle to grave.

Bill Jones has achieved an excellent balance of narration, speculation and reference of source material. The author has clearly dedicated significant time to the life of John Tarrant, and leaves no stone unturned. The struggle Tarrant faced to become an accepted competitor took him across the world and Jones re-creates that path faithfully; all the while assessing, via first-hand accounts, the effects that Tarrant's obsession with running caused him both mentally and physically.

This book is so good that it transcends sports afficionados, historical hunter-gatherers and running freaks alike - it is a story that absolutely anyone can marvel at; even if their interest in sport is negligible.

An inspirational book that has pride of place on my biography bookshelf.


Snog
Snog
by Rankin
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great interpretation of such a fundamental gesture, 15 July 2011
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This review is from: Snog (Paperback)
Being candid, I enjoyed this book and found it in some parts quite erotic. This book contains imagery of kissing, vivid and un-edited, across every age and social demographic you can think of. The kissing varies between affectionate, intense and improbable tongue action in equal measure; and the shots themselves are taken very well.

Very little descriptive, but then it needs none with such an evocative subject matter. I only wish Rankin had extended this line of work to produce more kissing imagery, but that is a personal preference.

A very good, and quite different photography exploration into human interaction. Needless to say, if pictures of people explicitly french-kissing may offend, then this book is not for you.


Sprint and Field Events [DVD]
Sprint and Field Events [DVD]
Offered by madbrad93
Price: £1.05

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very informative, but tries to Cram(!) a bit too much in..., 15 July 2011
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As athletics books and DVDs are very thin on the ground, I saw this as a great chance to view some hard-to-find footage from the 70s, 80s and 90s halcyon days of track and field.

Covering most legendary competitors up to the mid-nineties - including Carl Lewis, Ed Moses, Bob Beamon, Sergei Bubka, Al Oerter and Daley Thompson - there is certainly a lot of ground covered. The only problem is they have tried to fit too much in to the allotted programme time. As a result, some fantastic moments in the featured athlete's histories are cut unforgivably short; most notably, Carl Lewis' dramatic long-jump duel with Mike Powell in the 1991 Tokyo World Championships. That said, the footage within is of very good quality (mainly from the BBC archives, I understand), and there is plenty of extra footage - usually the athlete's best moments uncut (Lewis-Powell contest still not complete here either!)

Steve Cram narrates the DVD and is pretty good at the task; however he probably has a bit too much to say at times. All in all, this would have been far better stretched out over a second DVD, with more featured on each athlete, as well as maybe more interview footage with the athletes themselves. Certainly not a bad purchase, but not the DVD it could have been.


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