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Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life Paperback – May 13, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprah and The Tonight Show, shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort. At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“The grace and dignity that James has shown during some very difficult times has been a source of great inspiration.” (Andre Agassi)

“Blake is a champion—in every sense of the word.” (Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue)

“I’ve known James since early childhood...James’s rise to international success is as stunning as it was predictable.” (John Mayer)

“Through Blake’s commitment and passion, he tells the story of the life lessons he learned while facing difficult personal challenges.” (—Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe)

“[James Blake] has inspired young people everywhere with his story of courage and determination.” (—former president George H.W. Bush)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: It Books; Reprint edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006156060X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061560606
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #979,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lee Stallard on July 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Although I don't know James Blake, I met him very briefly in New York City years ago at the Harlem Tennis Center. I also met his father Thomas at that time who impressed me with his warmth and generosity of spirit. When I heard the news that Thomas Blake had died in 2004, I knew from meeting him that it would be a devastating loss for all who knew this wonderful man. And because my wife was battling cancer at that time and, like Thomas Blake, also being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, I could relate to what Thomas Blake, his family and friends experienced.

So often in life, good things bloom from the seeds of hardship. Breaking Back by James Blake is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story about how life's trials shaped the character of a remarkable young man. The wisdom of Thomas Blake and his son James' self-reflection reminded me of the relationship the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had with his father Joshua. The wisdom and friendship of Blake's philosopher-coach Brian Barker reminded me of the relationship John Wooden had with his players. The dedicated, supporting and steady presence of James' mother Betty Blake is a subtle theme throughout the book. I also loved Blake's affection for his friends and how they rallied around him in his time of need. When my wife had cancer, we experienced first hand how much the support of family and friends can help you make it through difficult seasons in life. I attribute my wife's recovery in part to the support we received just as James credits his friends and family for helping him through the difficult times he has faced.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sebastian Fernandez VINE VOICE on September 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are many cases in which professional athletes have come back from devastating injuries and personal problems to regain their place in the spotlight. However, there are only a few of these stories that are as inspiring as the case of James Blake. A series of events in 2004 changed the life of this tennis player forever. He broke his neck in a practice session, lost his father to cancer and then became ill with zoster, a stress related disease that among many drawbacks, affects equilibrium. And then, just when things could not get worse, the love of his friends and family catapulted James back to his rightful spot in the tennis world and in life.

Generally, when I read books of this kind, I cannot help feeling that the athlete is sharing only what the public expects, holding back facts that they may consider a little embarrassing. We usually see somebody struggling, but that also has a kind of bravado to face the situation. This could not be further from the truth in this case though. I felt that James is not holding anything back and is spilling his guts trying to get us to understand every detail of his struggle. Andrew Friedman definitely helps, displaying a proficient writing style and not letting the book get boring at any point.

Besides containing a fair amount of personal aspects related to the fight against adversity and the importance of friendship, this book has some very interesting insights into the mind of a tennis player. Blake shares with us the process by which he became a professional tennis player, but also what goes through the mind of a pro during a match and at the end of the year when it is time to take stock. There are many snippets of information about players on the tour and these keep us engaged and at times help lighten up the mood.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on July 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Maybe it's because I grew up in a Connecticut town just a few miles away from James Blake's hometown of Fairfield or that James is one of the most exciting tennis players to watch play a match....whatever the case, James has written a compelling memoir about the trials and travails of his recent life only to see him experience a renaissance in personal growth both on and off the court. "Breaking Back" is the story of James Blake's triumphs over adversity and it is one fine read.

As James says, a tennis match is not unlike life, itself. It's packed with victories and losses and all the drama that accompanies it. For James, a serious neck injury, the death of his father and being diagnosed with zoster (or "shingles") all in one year would drive anyone underground for a time. On top of all of that, James reveals he was born with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and had to wear a back brace for years. James is lucky, though, to come from a close, loving family, have a coach, Brian Barker, (who is as much a mentor as anything else) and have dozens of friends who support him in his darkest hours. They form the basis of J-Block, the chief rooting section for James. Shining above anything or anyone else, though, is his dad. Thomas's fatherly advice is well-taken by the young tennis pro and it serves him well as he struggles with his own illnesses and some of the psychological barriers that hold him back on the court. He refers to his Dad as "Superman" and the elder Blake's death from cancer is the harshest blow for James.

This book plumbs the depths of an inner life filled with joy and sorrow but the great news is the rebirth of James Blake.
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