98 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2011
A long-time John Feinstein fan, I eagerly awaited "One-on-One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game," especially after hearing the author interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air" last week. He told some fascinating stories about McEnroe, Woods, Capriati and others that we ordinary folks can't glean from the mainstream media. Such intimate telling, one could hope, would let us in on what makes some of our sports greats tick; and, what they, and Feinstein, think of the outsized roles they and their sports have come to play in our society.
This, sadly, is not that book. The title is a complete misnomer.
This book, rather, as Feinstein states clearly in his Introduction, is "a trip through reporting my first ten books, bringing me--and the reader--up to the present day." What's more, although the author adds: "This isn't meant to be a memoir," to this reader, the book most definitely has the pace, tone, look, structure and content of a memoir. There is very little "one-on-one behind the scenes," and hardly any that reveals something more interesting than what kind of tennis racquet someone used, or how nobly Bill Buckner owned up to an error.
Taking the book as the memoir it really is (and a very shallow one at that), other Feinstein fans surely will enjoy reading recaps of the author's long and up-and-down relationship with his "mentor," Bobby Knight, leading to the break-through book "A Season on the Brink"; his encounters with other great college basketball coaches; his passion for professional tennis and golf (also resulting in splendid books); his experience reporting on Army-Navy. I found his chapter on his coming-of-age, soaking in the old Forest Hills tennis atmosphere and the entire New York sports scene of the 60's and 70's, very helpful in understanding Feinstein's transformation. The vignette of one of his early bosses at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, saying of Feinstein's talent: "Don't blow it on sports," is beautiful!
But what's missing, in my view, is any sustained and meaningful, critical examination, of (1) what in Feinstein's view makes his favorite sports figures tick; and (2) what they, and the author, think of their work and accomplishments in a broader societal setting. In this regard, the book exists in a sort of vacuum. Decades go by but rarely does Feinstein critically appraise, let alone acknowledge, how all of the sports have evolved so radically. We read a lot about how much Feinstein ended up being paid for his first book or by the Post but there is hardly anything noted by anyone about the outrageous sums of money in pro sports. Drug testing, drug problems? None suggested here. Nothing about the sometimes-disturbing aspects of our sports. Lacking in any real perspective, the book struck me as a real ho-hum travelogue through events already well-delivered by the author. Unfortunately, the "Greats" in the games remain one-dimensional.
Which is not to suggest that there aren't some really fine parts. Portrayals of Ivan Lendl, Steve Kerr, Mary Carillo and David Duval struck me as insightful, honest "behind the scenes" looks and appraisals--as the title promised. More often than not, however, Feinstein believes the reader will be content just to have stock scenes and very conventional and unrevealing portraits.
Which in my mind is really a shame, given how ubiquitous and prolific Feinstein has been the past 25 years. Hopefully, now that he has gotten a rather self-absorbed memoir out of his system, he can focus on producing the great insightful "one-on-one behind the scenes" book he surely has within him.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Memorable moments and unforgettable people during a ten-book journey...thus far...featured in an eleventh book
Others have their reasons for holding this book in high regard. Here are three of mine. First, with all due respect to the celebrities in sports with whom John Feinstein has been directly associated (e.g. Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, John McEnroe, Arnold Palmer, Dean Smith, and Tiger Woods), I enjoyed even more being introduced to others who offer unique insights into the sub texture of "the thrill of victory ...and the agony of defeat," a tag line associated with the ABC's Wide World of Sports program on television (1961-1998). They include Steve Alford, Damon Bailey, Jim Cantelupe, Steve Kerr, Christina and Derek Klein, Esther Newberg, George Solomon, and Ted Tinling. For reasons best revealed in the book, each is a major contributor to Feinstein's personal growth and professional development.
Also, I really appreciate sharing Feinstein's perspectives on what he enjoys most (and least) about his career in sports journalism thus far, especially his take on what it is like to have access to so many major events, scrambling to make both domestic and international travel connections, and coping with hamster-brained "officials" who deny access (i.e. handlers, gatekeepers, security guards). What did he learn (and from whom did he learn it) about how to manage the logistics of travel, access, accommodations, food, rest and relaxation, and aspects of extensive travel?
Finally, there are his thorny relationships with various people, notably with Bob Knight, but also with Jim Courier, Rick Pitino, Bobby Valentine, Jim Valvano, and Tiger Woods. Eventually, he seems to have achieved mutual (albeit somewhat grudging) respect with each. Knowing only what Feinstein shares about these relationships, I have only his point-of-view but he seems to make an effort to portray both sides of the given disagreements, misunderstandings, and accusations. There are other, less volatile relationships that Feinstein especially enjoys, such as those with his Washington Post colleague, Bob Woodward, as well as with Bud Collins, Sally Jenkins, Ivan Lendl, Jeff Neuman, and David Robinson.
My personal co-favorites among Feinstein's ten previous books are Civil War and Let Me Tell You a Story but he will probably be best-remembered for Season on the Brink. All are first-rate. Hopefully, he will publish several more books in years to come and then another One on One.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2011
I don't know of a writer who has been on the scene at more major sporting events than John Feinstein -- Final Fours, World Series, Wimbledons, U.S. Opens (tennis and golf), and many more. "One on One" takes us back through 25 years of encounters with the biggest names in sports, and it's an amazing journey.
Of course, names are "dropped." Would you expect him to leave out all the interesting people? Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe, and the rest each changed his or her sport in some way -- good or bad -- and Feinstein's encounters with them make for a great read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2012
As a long-time John Feinstein fan, I was really looking forward to reading this book. However, I found the title to be a bit of a misnomer. There was very little sitting down "one on one" with any greats, and a lot of the interviews were simple rehashed stories. Now, there were some new stories as well, which were good, but on the whole, I felt like he drifted a bit from the purpose of the book. He seemed to make too may stories about him, which was annoying.
I have read every one of Feinstein's books, and I absolutely loved them all. Very insightful, you could tell how much work he put into the interviews, etc. Having said that, I feel like I walked away from One on One with very little new information. Now, when he was describing his research on the Majors, his '99 book, he was talking about how he was scheduled to sit and interview Tiger, and as I was reading this, I though, "hmmm, I remember Tiger was hardly mentioned in that book, and I always wondered why." Then he proceeded to tell the backstory in One on One, about how Tiger couldn't forgive JF for writing many bad things about his Father in the past, and it was nice, fresh information. The backstory on A Season on the Brink was also very insightful; how it came to pass, the fallout with Knight in the intervening 25 years, it was a fascinating story.
But sadly, these are few and far between. Too many rehashed interviews, it was almost as if he couldn't figure out what to do for his next book, so he just threw this together. Yes, there were untold interviews with Payne Stewart, Ivan Lendl (did anyone honestly care about the tennis portion? It's beyond a dead sport) etc, but they weren't all that interesting. I will say that the last 80 or so pages did a good job catching up with Damon Bailey, some of the good characters from The Last Amateurs, and the guys from A Civil War, but these were hardly the greats in the game! And therein lies the problem with this book; when he did actually sit down for new interviews, they were hardly with Legends. It was too memoir-ish, with huge bouts of name-dropping, and he had too many stories where it seemed to be all about him.
The story about being stuck in Yugoslavia, going to see the mother of the recently defected hockey player, had no place in this book. What the heck did that have to do with the theme he was trying to stick with? Yeah, it was slightly interesting that he almost got arrested, but in the end, it was much ado about nothing. To me, this book should have been titled "My Adventures in Sportswriting." At least then the book would have followed the path set forth by the title. It also bothered me that he barely spent any time on certain books, like A March to Madness, which is, in my opinion, his best book. Having said that, it was still a good book, and I read it in under a day, but I felt like I had already read a lot of it, having read all of his other books. For all the other JF fans out there, if you read this book and didn't find it to be a repeat, then you either didn't read his 1st 10 books, or you forgot what they said after all these years and thus found this one to be fresh.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2013
From the title you would think this would be a book full of insight and stories about great sports figures. Instead you get 500 pages of self aggrandizing stories about him and his career. If you ever wanted a book full of stories about how John Feinstein stood up to such and such coach, security guard, KGB agent and constant name dropping of all the people he knows then this is for you. I read books all the way through and this one I couldn't take any more and stopped at page 400. At least I know Feinstein is an arrogant, egotistical, poser after reading this. Don't waste your time or money.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed Finestein's latest. He is a master at telling a good story. Plenty of "behind the scenes" stories about Bobby Knight, Coach K and Tiger Woods. I would recommend this book to any sports fan.
on May 20, 2015
This is like a lot of other Feinstein books: easy to read, very informative, and completely smug. It's higher on the smugness index because Feinstein is writing about himself, rather than focusing primarily on his sports subjects. It's a memoir of sorts, a look at how he got some of the big stories in his professional life and his personal interactions with major sports figures of the 1980s and 1990s.
For a sports geek of a certain age, the book is a great trip down nostalgia lane. The years when the ACC and the Big East dominated college basketball, the last era of greatness in American men's tennis, the pre-Tiger period in golf as well as Tiger's ascension; and so on. And Feinstein serves up honest opinions about who he liked and didn't like, and those with whom he had a productive but stormy relationship (his editors at the Washington Post, Bobby Knight, and seemingly every security guard flunkie at every NCAA basketball arena and at Wimbledon).
One of the strengths of Feinstein's coverage is that he does pull back the curtain on the glamour and slickness to show the hard work and tough realities. But, unlike today's online tabloids, he doesn't do scandals about drugs, violence or groupies. He does things like describing the long drives that a college coach does to look at a high school recruit, or the way a guy on the fringe of the pro golf tour might have to live out of his car in order to save on expenses, or the career ambitions of college football players who know they aren't NFL material, but put up with the grueling practices and injuries anyway. These can be wonderful vignettes.
Also, Feinstein makes the research and the writing look easy, which it isn't. You can zip through his books as beach reads, while also learning a lot about a sport you enjoy. But the downside of all of this is the underlying sense you get that Feinstein is an arrogant jerk. He admits it repeatedly in this book, but in a humble-brag way. That he's the son of Manhattan artistic privilege who met the highest society in classical music and jazz during his youth. That he was a newspaper stringer for a half-dozen papers while in college. That he was a super-young intern and reporter at The Post. That he wormed his way into NCAA events, Wimbledon, the Olympics, and so on. It's all a bit too much, even though it's impressive.
In short, for a Feinstein fan, this is a nice behind-the-scenes look and a look back at highlights of his coverage. But it comes with the tone and attitude that can make him hard to take at times.
on November 9, 2014
John Feinstein writes well. That’s no surprise in light of his long career as a journalist and the imposing list of popular books to his credit.
I had read several of them with pleasure, which is the reaction I anticipated when I began “One on One.” Its subtitle, “Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game”, led me to expect thoughtful and revealing portraits of some of the great athletes and coaches whom he had gotten to know over the years. And there is much of that in this book, to be sure. However, it could just as well have been entitled, “A Memoir: Self-Indugence and Payback.”
Much of the book is a memoir. If you’re interested in knowing how he was introduced to Shakespeare and the opera as a boy, for example, you will learn about it here. And if you’re curious to know just how Feinstein reacted, and what he then ate, when he learned that several of his books had become best-sellers, you’ll learn that too. However, those subjects didn’t interest me, nor did I understand just what they had to do with “the Greats in the Game.” What the two subjects have in common is that they are not about great athletes or coaches; they are about the life of John Feinstein. Hence, “self-indulgence.”
Feinstein also lends weight to the axiom that it can be dangerous to disagree with journalists because they usually can have the last word. Time and again he uses this book for payback: to get back at other journalists (including more than one of his former bosses), security officials who always seemed to be doing him wrong, coaches who wouldn’t speak with him when he wanted to speak with them or who didn’t understand why their priority in life should be to give him the kind of access to their teams that he wanted, and, of course, athletes who offended him for reasons large and small—among others.
After writing two successful books, for example, Feinstein changed publishers, from Random House to Little, Brown, provoking him to write this one-sentence paragraph: “The move worked out well for Little, Brown and for me—not so well for the woman at Random House who decided that selling my contract was a smart move.” I suppose writing that made Feinstein feel better; I can imagine him thumbing his nose at her as he wrote that. But it didn’t do him credit to put it in print instead of being satisfied to relish it in the privacy of his mind.
I’ll offer just one other example. Feinstein once found himself on crutches after having torn an Achilles tendon. While covering baseball at the time, he writes, “[t]he only person I remember who wasn’t sympathetic was Jody Reed, who was playing second base for the Red Sox at the time.” “My crutches were propped up against the wall” in the visiting team clubhouse. “Reed walked past me, looked at the crutches, and said, ‘Make sure those things don’t fall over. Someone might trip on them and hurt themselves’.”
Feinstein comments: “Sure, Jody. I’ll be real careful,” as if to say, “How could a professional athlete give a thought to the well-being of his teammates, who, unlike journalists, couldn’t continue doing their jobs with torn tendons when Our Hero was bravely battling through pain and inconvenience? I don’t know what tone of voice Reed used, whether he was being snarky or sincere. More to the point, though, I don’t know what purpose this little vignette served except payback. This was Reed’s only appearance in the book and Reed was only a journeyman ballplayer, hardly one of the “Greats in the Game.” So what could possibly have motivated Feinstein to include this little episode except the desire for payback?
To be fair, Feinstein is gracious as can be to those whom he likes, but too much of what he writes focuses less on the some of the Greats and Not-So-Greats, and more on his relations and interactions with them, and especially how he managed to convince them to see the light and agree to his requests for interviews. I did come away from “One on One” with respect for Feinstein’s diligence and determination, but I doubt that he understood that he was painting a less than flattering portrait of himself as a man while burdening this book with much that had little to do with its title and sub-title.
Toward the end of “One on One,” Feinstein reports a meeting he had with a college basketball player who had been featured in a book written years earlier. The now ex-player said that his boss had bought that book in hardcover for a penny. “I told him [the boss] I hoped when he finished it he felt as if he’d gotten his money’s worth.” Feinstein concludes, “I hope so too.” I bought “One on One” at a deeply-discounted price, so I’m satisfied that I got my money’s worth. I’m just glad that I didn’t pay full retail.
Ever since John Feinstein blew onto the non-fiction sports writing scene in the mid-80s with "A Season On the Brink", Feinstein has been cranking out book after book after book, year after year after year, at truly an amazing and sustained pace. You have to wonder how many books the guy has still in him. Feinstein may have been wondering the same, as for his latest book, he simply looks back to his 20+ years as a sportswriter and reflects on things.
"One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game" (541 pages) starts off with a look back to how "A Season on the Brink" came about, how he gained Bob Knight's trust, etc. No, there are no new insights but rather Feinstein spices things up with anedotes he didn't include in the original book. (Example: when he joins Kinght on a speaking engagement, Kinght comments to the audience, "'Feinstein works for the Washington Post but he's going to spend this season with our team to write a book that I hope will show people just what goes into trying to have a successful basketball team. John, stand up so these people can see what a liberal jew from the East Coast looks like'. I stood up. I had no problem with that introduction".) The book is heavy on basketball, and in particular collge basketball, and in particular the ACC. Feinstein truly seems to have dug up every single moment of interaction with coaches and players that he hasn't written about before, and in that sense the book is very Feinstein-oriented, but if you've read some of his others books, this will not come as a surprise as Feinstein does have a very 'healthy' sense of ego. A much better part of the book for me is Feninstein's reflections on the Army-Navy rivalry, the football side of which forming the base of his book "The Civil War", which Feinstein points out as still his best book ever (and I will readily agree with that). And of course golf is featured heavily in the book as well, with lots of anecdotes involving Tiger Woods (most of them negative, as Feinstein is not a fan of Woods).
While no new territory is covered in this book as such, I must admit that I found myself turning the pages non-stop. The book is a bit over-long at over 500 pages, and I skipped a few chapters in the latter part of the book that dealt with golf, a sport I don't much care about. The best part of the book is the first 150 pages or so, when Feinstein also reflects on how he made his way into the sportswriting world. That said, this book is really nothing more than a 'victory lap' for Feinstein, and as such is strictly for Feinstein fans. You know who you are!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2012
In 1979, a young reporter for the Washington Post received career advice from journalist Bob Woodward, whose Watergate coverage brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Woodward, then a metro editor at the Post, counseled John Feinstein against sports writing for the paper. "You have a chance to become a great reporter," Woodward advised. "Don't blow it on sports. If you go back there, you'll never be heard from again." Fortunately, for sports fans around the world, Feinstein ignored the advice. Twenty-two sports-themed books later, including two of the bestselling nonfiction sports titles in history, Feinstein is perhaps the most recognized sports journalist of his generation.
ONE ON ONE is the type of book that publishers allow successful authors to write as a reward for producing a score of bestselling books. This is a behind-the-scenes look at how many of those great books came to be. Feinstein writes of a different era in sports, a time when writers had greater access to athletes and thus were able to show the real world of sports. Today, journalists meet athletes in "interview" rooms, a locale so artificial as to render true insight almost impossible. Feinstein's A SEASON ON THE BRINK, the story of a season with Bobby Knight and the Indiana University basketball team, and A GOOD WALK SPOILED, recounting life on the professional golfing tour, were remarkable for the insights obtained from athletes and coaches in unguarded moments. Contemporary athletes, mindful of image and lucrative endorsement contracts, are far more reluctant to open up their lives to journalists.
Reading Feinstein is to read far more than sports. Great sports books capture the spirit of an era and of a public enamored with the game. Great writers capture the essence of where sports fit in the life-size mural that is life. We cannot understand the history of America without understanding Babe Ruth, Red Grange or Bobby Jones. A CIVIL WAR: Army vs. Navy is far more than a book about service academy football; it's about the men who serve this country by wearing the uniform of our military. In ONE ON ONE, Feinstein returns to many of the players he covered in his previous books to rediscover the triumph and tragedies of their careers that accomplished far more than winning and losing football games.
Throughout ONE ON ONE, readers learn how the other books in the Feinstein library came to be. A SEASON ON THE BRINK is perhaps his most recognized one. Why was Bobby Knight willing to grant Feinstein unlimited access to his basketball program? In part because the writer established himself through his dealings with other prominent college coaches as one who could be trusted. More important, however, was Knight's agenda. Knight had a message about college basketball that he wanted the public to understand, and Feinstein was the vehicle for spreading that message. Ironically, Knight hated the book. More ironically, Feinstein hated the movie made from the book. The final irony, of course, is that the book is a staple for anyone wanting to learn about college basketball and Knight.
Feinstein has succeeded as a sport journalist by going behind the scenes of great athletes and coaches, from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods, Bobby Knight to Mike Krzyzewski. He also has covered the greatest sporting events in the world, from Wimbledon to the Final Four. Now he has granted readers the type of access he has been afforded. By holding a mirror to his work, he has made his own writing even better. If you have a Feinstein fan on your holiday list, ONE ON ONE is the perfect book.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman