From Publishers Weekly
Feinstein is turning out the sports books faster than ever, as his whirlwind tour of the NCAA college basketball tournament follows quickly on the heels of his fall 2005 look at pro football, Next Man Up
. Maybe that explains the somewhat rushed feel, as Feinstein skips briskly from one anecdote to the next. In his effort to depict the annual climax of "March Madness" from as many perspectives as possible, Feinstein collects stories from coaches, players, referees, sportscasters and others, more often than not finding the positive angle. Even Terry Howard's missed free throw during a 1975 semifinal game is turned into a reflection on what an honor it is just to be able to play in the Final Four. The closest Feinstein comes to controversy is when he criticizes the NCAA's recent decision to add a 65th team to the tournament. The account of last year's battle between Illinois and North Carolina for the championship is largely perfunctory; Feinstein is clearly much more interested in revisiting the past with coaching legends like Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski (who also supplies a brief foreword). Then again, in all likelihood, so are most readers. 8 pages of photos. (Feb. 7)
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*Starred Review* For sports-challenged individuals, the Final Four is the culmination of the NCAA men's college basketball season and the number-two American sports event, trailing only the Super Bowl. The four best teams from an initial field of 64 meet on semifinal Saturday to decide the participants in Monday's championship final. Feinstein, arguably the best book-length sports journalist working today, employs the 2005 weekend as the catalyst to discuss the history of the event, the key people, and, most significantly, the effect that involvement in the Final Four has had on participants' lives. The book is centered almost exclusively on the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East Conference. Feinstein's jingoism translates to lots of Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, and Syracuse, with scant attention to the rest of the country with the exception of UCLA and coach John Wooden. That caveat aside, this is a terrific book. Feinstein goes behind the scenes to examine such matters as the often-controversial selection marathon, and the sometimes-petty rivalries between coaches. The anecdotes are entertaining, and the insights into the tournament's logistics fascinating, but what will linger most are the remembrances of players, especially those who ended up on the losing side. The best books take us to places we've never been and let us feel what life there is like. Welcome to the Final Four, courtesy of John Feinstein. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved