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Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile
Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile
by Nate Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.58
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jackson's football dream unfolded differently than those of superstars, but it still unfolded, January 5, 2014
Former Denver Broncos receiver Nate Jackson describes himself as one of the NFL's nameless and faceless players who no one will ever remember. Jackson, a product of Division III Menlo College, signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. He played wide receiver, tight end and on special teams for the Broncos from 2003-2008. His career stats are 41 games played (three starts), 27 receptions and two touchdowns.

Hampered by a series of injuries and constant uncertainty, Jackson writes, "The football dream I had unfolded differently than those of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but they still unfolded." He played the game he loved and chased his dream until his body betrayed him.

Jackson gives readers great insight to life as a player on the bottom of the NFL pile. It's not so much about the regular-season games as much as training camps, pre-season games, injuries and treatment plans and dealing with an uncertain future.

Jackson says many NFL players deal with the same cycle of injuries and rehabs separated by periods of relative health. How long that health lasts has a lot to say about how long the player will last.

"The NFL is not your friend," writes Jackson. "Your job is not guaranteed; your life is under scrutiny. You play until they replace you." He adds, "Being able to relax in the NFL is a rarity. The pressures are great and they are constant."

Jackson says enduring the pain and violence of the NFL made him feel like he was earning his pay. Violence is football's winning formula, and the game depends on it, according to Jackson. But he says when viewers watch the game on a television and at a safe distance, it dehumanizes the athletes and makes their pain unreal.

After six years with the Broncos, Jackson says he felt like a failure. In the end, however, he says playing in the NFL isn't about the yards, TDs, money or fame, it's about the brotherhood.

A football fan can learn more about life as a NFL player by reading Jackson's book than a score of others. Jackson writes artfully and is careful not to get bogged down in game details. He shares his frustrations, insecurities and uncertainties as well as his few moments of success. While there are only a few superstars in the NFL, there are many more players like Nate Jackson, men who are just trying to make it.

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
by Pat Conroy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.61
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5.0 out of 5 stars A history of the Conroy family, starring The Great Santini, December 30, 2013
Although this book is subtitled "The Story of a Father and his Son," it is really a history of the dysfunctional Conroy family with the Great Santini in a starring role.

In addition to his father, author Pat Conroy writes about his mother, grandmother, brother Tom who committed suicide and his oldest sister Carol Ann, who hates him and seems to have a mental illness.

If you've read The Great Santini and My Losing Season, you're aware of the physical and emotional abuse Pat, his mother and siblings suffered at the hands of his Marine fighter pilot father, Don, who had a violent and unpredictable temper. While Pat recounts only some of the abuse, it's clear he hated his father.

"My father was meaner than a s***house rat and I remember hating him even when I was in diapers," he writes. "My father taught me now to hate."

Conroy says he realized he would always be serving a life sentence without parole because of the unpardonable cruelty of his father. Five of the seven Conroy children attempted suicide and Pat experienced several mental breakdowns.

Conroy told the story of his father in The Great Santini, which was an immensely popular book and movie. He hadn't told anyone he was writing it, and he was attacked by his family and relatives and accused of making up the cruelty of his father. His father, however, enjoyed the spotlight and embraced the role of The Great Santini, all the while labeling the book a figment of his son's imagination.

But Don Conroy actually began rehabilitating his image as a father around this time. And, he and Pat drew closer over the years. Although they didn't see eye-to-eye, they met for coffee every day from 1976-1980.

A divorce from wife Pat and the suicide of his youngest son, Tom, were events that exposed the real Don Conroy. His cried uncontrollably at Tom's funeral, and it was as Pat writes proof of his dad's ability to demonstrate his love for his children and served as a window into his soul. Pat concluded that his father loved his children, in his own way, but had trouble showing it.

From that day forward, Pat Conroy says his long war with his father came to an end. Although his father never admitted to abusing the father, Pat and Don grew closer together. After his father was diagnosed with colon cancer, the two traveled around the country to visit friends and relatives.

By the time of his death, Pat writes that he and his siblings had grown to love their father. Pat had obviously forgiven his father, something I don't think I could have done.

By this point, no one should have to be convinced to read a Pat Conroy book. As usual, his writing is elegant, interesting and engaging.

Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo
Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo
by Jack Cheevers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.94
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5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting and harrowing account of an intelligence debacle, December 22, 2013
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The USS Pueblo, a spy ship, was captured by North Korea on January 23, 1968. It was one of the worst intelligence debacles in American history. Eighty-two sailors were captured and held for 11 months.

Although the Pueblo's cover story was that it was conducting environmental research, its real purpose was to gain a better understanding of North Korea's ability to wage war. The Pueblo was seized in international waters, more than 15 miles from North Korea.

The heavily armed North Koreans confronted the Pueblo and fired upon the ship, killing one sailor. The Pueblo began the emergency destruction of classified documents and electronics, but failed to destroy everything before the North Koreans boarded the ship.
Commander Lloyd Bucher had been led to believe he and his crew would be protected by international law. Bucher had expressed concerns about ships relative inability to defend itself and insufficient means to destroy all the documents and electronics. He also was instructed not to provoke the North Koreans. To make matters worse, there were no ships or planes close enough that could provide reinforcements to the Pueblo.

Not wanting to get his entire crew killed, Bucher surrendered the Pueblo to the North Koreas. Whether Bucher actually surrendered the ship or not became a point for debate later on. Despite the semantics, Bucher became the first U.S. naval commander to surrender his ship without a fight since 1807. Despite the circumstances, the United State Navy considered it a black eye and a blow to its reputation.

North Korea's goal was to have the American sailors admit to spying and sign a public apology. The men were beaten unmercifully. Bucher was repeatedly beaten and threatened that all of his men would be killed in front of him and then he would be killed, if they did not sign the apology. Additionally, the men were forced to exist on about 500 calories a day, their diet consisting mainly of rice and turnips.

The United States' goal was to get the Pueblo crew back alive. President Lyndon Johnson was in a difficult situation. He had to be careful how he responded. He couldn't afford a war with North Korea, but at the same time, he couldn't afford to be seen as being soft. The hope was to use diplomacy rather than military action against North Korea.

Fortunately, diplomacy worked. After 11 months of sadistic imprisonment, the 82 sailors were released in December of 1969. Were Commander Bucher and his sailors heroes or not? It was a question debated by the Navy and the public. Bucher faced a possible court martial. He faced a Court of Inquiry, a fact-finding body, not a trial, in front of five admirals. The Court of Inquiry lasted two months. It was decided that Bucher and his men had suffered enough and there would be no further judicial action. Bucher, relegated to being an outcast in the Navy, retired in 1973 after 27 years of service. He died in 2004 at age 73.

Author Jack Cheevers delivers a riveting and harrowing account of the USS Pueblo incident and its aftermath. Well-written and briskly paced, Act of War is always interesting and entertaining.

Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson
by Henry Bushkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.72
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5.0 out of 5 stars A man who couldn't seem to find happiness, December 14, 2013
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This review is from: Johnny Carson (Hardcover)
Author Henry Bushkin served as Johnny Carson's attorney for 18 years. He was, however, much more than Carson's attorney. He cleaned up Johnny's personal as well as business messes. He was Johnny's regular tennis partner and was with him in many social situations. Bushkin and his wife accompanied the Carsons on many vacations. So, Henry Bushkin knew Johnny Carson perhaps as well as anyone.

Johnny Carson was a complex person. Bushkin writes that one moment "he could be gracious, funny and generous and the next moment be curt, aloof and hard-hearted." He adds, "I never met a man with a greater abundance of social gifts--intelligence, looks, manners, style and humor--and never met a man with less aptitude for or interest in maintaining real relationships."

Johnny was a habitual loner who was brought up to protect his privacy. He valued loyalty and demanded it from everyone around him. He had to be No. 1, and whomever or whatever was No. 2 had to be very distant from him. He cut off relationships with many people who he felt betrayed their loyalty to him.

When Bushkin met Johnny, he was 45 years old and going through his second divorce. He had no investments, no real estate and no real savings. Much of his salary from NBC for The Tonight Show was deferred. His lack of funds was shocking. His poor financial situation was due in large part to the mismanagement of his finances by Sonny Werblin, an agent, part owner of the New York Jets and a neighbor. Over the years, Bushkin would dramatically change Carson's financial situation.

Much of Johnny Carson's aloofness, emotional emptiness and mean-spirit could be traced to his mother Ruth. Bushkin writes a great deal about her. He says she was impossible to impress and impossible to please. Nothing made her happy.

Johnny "was a child of an emotionally abusive parent," writes Bushkin. "She never really accepted him and he constantly wanted her approval. It was nearly impossible for him to be happy with any woman for an extended time and with people in general."

Johnny had a problem with giving and receiving love. He never received his mother's love, although he wanted it. He never really trusted happiness. Johnny's second wife described his mother as "selfish and cold."

Bushkin writes, "Ruth was immune to Johnny's charms and talents. Nothing he did impressed her. Although Johnny engaged the adulteration of millions, his mother could not love him. He carried that pain and spread it all of his life."

Bushkin includes a number of damning stories about Johnny's mother, but the one that takes the cake concerns the 42-day, all-expenses paid trip around the world that he sent his mother and father on. Not once during the trip did they call him. And, finally several days after they returned home, Johnny called them to ask how they enjoyed the trip. "Well, we're glad to be home," was his mother's only response.

In 1978, The Tonight Show was making between $50-$60 million a year for NBC while attracting 17 million viewers, double the number they had when Johnny took over in 1962. ABC started wooing Johnny, although he was still under contract to NBC. Johnny was, however, considering walking away from NBC and the contract. Bushkin exploited a loophole that said an employee could only be under contract for seven years. He won a hard-fought legal battle and even though Johnny was free to sign with ABC, he signed a new contract with NBC.

The contract he signed in May of 1980 called for $25 million a year and he would work one hour a night, three nights a week. He worked for 37 weeks and had 15 weeks vacation. Plus, Carson and Carson Productions became owners of The Tonight Show.

Bushkin's relationship with Johnny ended with a three-minute conversation in an ugly aftermath of a potential business deal where Johnny felt Bushkin had been disloyal and undermined him.

Johnny Carson died alone in 2005. He was separated from his fourth wife and had alienated or pushed away most of his friends. His estate was valued at $450 million.

Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness
Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness
by Pete Earley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.40
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5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, frustrating and idiotic system of treatment, December 7, 2013
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Author Peter Earley's book "Crazy" tells two stories--that of his son, Mike, who had a bipolar episode in college and was arrested for breaking into a private home and damaging it, and that of his year-long investigation inside the Miami-Dade County jail in Miami.

Earley uses his personal experience with his son and the experiences of those in the Miami-Dade County jail to illustrate how frustrating and idiotic the mental health laws are. He writes that the mentally ill used to be treated in state hospitals; now they are being arrested and the jails and prisons are the new asylums. Today, fewer than 55,000 of the mentally ill are treated in state hospitals. This is one-tenth the number treated in state hospitals in 1955.

Earley says the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was an unplanned social disaster. He writes, "Deinstitutionalization was a cruel hoax and the wholesale closings of state hospitals was abandonment, not freedom, for the chronically mentally ill."

An emergency room doctor at the Virginia hospital where Earley's son was taken said he couldn't treat him because he had not harmed himself or others. And, the irony of the law is that someone who has been determined to be delusional and psychotic must give their consent to be treated. As the doctor said, "It's not against the law to be crazy." Yet, if a physician didn't treat a patient with obvious physical injuries, the physician would be accused of negligence and cruelty. Early frustrations and helplessness as a parent of a mentally ill child mirrored that of thousands of others.

Earley says most of the mentally ill had no concept of what they were doing when they committed crimes. It's in society's best interest to help them get treatment, not lock them in jail.

Earley spends a lot of time addressing the issue of the civil rights of the mentally ill. Although 80 percent of the mentally ill can be helped with antipsychotic medications, civil rights laws are used to prevent patients from receiving help. The current system is heavily biased against intervention and treatment. As a result, many of the mentally ill live on the streets like animals.

Yet, as one physician said, "I've never had one person whom I had helped say to me, 'Doc, I wish you had left me crazy on the streets."

Earley's profiles of several mentally ill people who were in the Miami-Dade County jail are disturbing and frustrating. While his son had a positive outcome, the same can't be said for others.

This is the type of book that will stick with you a while, particularly if you have a friend or family member who has a mental illness. The way we treat mental illness in the United States is a disgrace. This book should be required reading for all politicians and legislators.

America's Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League
America's Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League
by Keith Dunnavant
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bart Starr, the epitome of substance over style, November 24, 2013
Bart Starr is the only quarterback to win five NFL championships; he was the MVP of the Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II; and he is a Hall of Famer. Yet, Starr spent his entire 16-year career with the Green Bay Packers (1956-1971) underrated and immersed in an eternal struggle for respect.

He spent his career in the shadow of Johnny Unitas and other quarterbacks who were perceived as more daring, flashier and talented. Starr, the epitome of substance over style, was mistakenly considered a robotic extension of Packers coach Vince Lombardi. New York sportswriter Phil Pepe called Starr "the anonymous quarterback."

Starr was admittedly dull when compared to his competitors, but he was a money player who performed well in big games, particularly post-season games. He led the Packers to NFL championships in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967 as the Green Bay squad became the first to win three consecutive championships. Author Keith Dunnavant describes Starr as "cerebral, poised, efficient."

Dunnavant makes the point that overcoming doubt is what drove Starr to greatness. His father doubted him; his college coaches at Alabama doubted him; and Lombardi doubted him. Starr, a 17th round draft pick, showed no hints of greatness. He didn't have a strong arm and he didn't seem tough enough to lead a team. He was, however, one of the most fundamentally sound quarterbacks, and Packer teammate Bill Curry said, "Bart is a tremendous competitor with an amazing will to succeed."

The pairing of Starr with Lombardi in Green Bay was key to each other's success. Dunnavant writes that without Lombardi, "Starr may have been a footnote in NFL history; Starr was born to play the role Lombardi wanted."

Once after Starr gained Lombardi's respect (he asked the coach to apologize to him in front of the team since he had wrongfully criticized him in front of the team), they became synonymous with success.

Starr will always be remembered for engineering the winning 67-yard drive in the 1967 Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys. He capped the drive with a gutsy one-yard quarterback sneak with 16 seconds remaining for a 21-17 win. Dunnavant writes that the drive was a monument to "overcoming adversity with precision, power, imaginative play-calling and steely determination."

In addition to Starr's playing career, Dunnavant covers his lackluster nine years as coach of the Packers (53-77-3). He also focuses on Starr's personal life, particularly his work with the Rawhide Ranch for boys, and the death of his 24-year-old son from drugs. Starr is a man of high moral character, and one who readily accepts being a role model.

Dunnavant succeeds in making his point that Bart Starr is one of the NFL's most underrated and underappreciated Hall of Famers.

America's Game
America's Game
by Michael MacCambridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.65
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle transform the NFL, November 13, 2013
This review is from: America's Game (Paperback)
According to author Michael MacCambridge, the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, viewed by 45 million people, signaled a historic shift in the American sports landscape. In 10 years, football would replace baseball as the national pastime.

From 1961-1972, those who listed football as their favorite sport rose from 15 to 36 percent, while baseball declined from 34 to 21 percent.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, a former PR man and general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, more than anyone else was responsible for the transformation. He had a "thorough understanding of the principles and practices of mass communication, and he tailored the NFL image to a broad-based, middle-class audience."

Rozelle reigned as the NFL commissioner for 30 years (1960-1989) and became the most successful, most powerful and smartest commissioner in any sport. A master at marketing, Rozelle pushed for revenue sharing, understood the power of television and increased the appeal of professional football.

In 1962, Fortune wrote, "the NFL is wonderfully attuned to the pace and style of life in America during the 1960s."

Rozelle also led the NFL through its most tumultuous period, 1964-1966, as it battled the AFL for fans before eventually merging. MacCambridge writes, "the AFL spurred the NFL to greater heights, sharpened the competitive balance of both and eventually hastened the end of baseball as the national pastime." He adds that the AFL also sparked a rush to expansion that would eventually seize all sports.

Rozelle was an astute and savvy negotiator. In 1962, CBS signed its first national contract with the NFL for $4.6 million over two years. The next contract was for $28 million over two years. In 1982, the NFL's television contract called for $2.1 billion over five years. In 1998, the NFL signed a TV deal worth $18 billion for eight years. By 2005, each NFL would receive $84 million a year from the contract.

The 1980s, however, was a decade of turmoil filled with lawsuits, franchise moves and a battle with another rival, the USFL.

The NFL also was blessed to have Bert Bell as its commissioner from 1945 until his death in 1959. Bell came up with the draft with the idea of equalizing talent and competition throughout the league; developed a more balanced and competitive schedule; stabilized the league; decreased bickering; helped bolster the league's reputation and fought off the rival AAFC.

In addition to the influence of the NFL's commissioners, MacCambridge also chronicles how the game changed on the field, the influence of television, the creation of NFL dynasties, the AFL-NFL war and other milestones in the league's rise to its current overwhelming popularity.

America's Game is indeed an epic story, and one every serious football fan should become familiar with. MacCambridge consistently holds the reader's attention, providing insight, thorough research and an interesting storyline. The book never seems to lag.

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want To Be One (Jewish Lives)
Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want To Be One (Jewish Lives)
by Mark Kurlansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars A true pioneer who showed remarkable courage, November 10, 2013
Hank Greenberg was major league baseball's first superstar Jewish player. Greenberg, a star for the Detroit Tigers, was voted an All-Star four times and won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1935 and 1940. In 1938, he challenged Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs. Greenberg ended up with 58. The year before, he drove in 183 runs, one short of Lou Gehrig's American League record. Greenberg was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

Mark Kurlansky's book, which is part of the Jewish Lives series, isn't about Greenberg's baseball career as much as it's about his life, his battle against anti-Semitism and the role religion played in his life.

Kurlansky points out that Greenberg played in the major leagues during the most anti-Semitic era in United States history. Plus, he played in Detroit, a city many considered the most anti-Semitic in the U.S. His experience was similar, although much less intense, to Jackie Robinson's as he broke the color barrier in 1947. Both endured insults, name-calling and mean-spirited badgering.

Greenberg showed a "humanity and strength of character far beyond that of most sports heroes," writes Kurlansky. "He was a true pioneer who showed remarkable courage, discipline and restraint."

Greenberg's decision not to play on Yom Kipper in 1934, earned him a special place among Jews. Yet, it was the only time Greenberg, who was not a practicing Jew, observed Yom Kipper. In fact, Greenberg said he hated religion.

Greenberg wanted to be a great baseball player, not a Jewish hero or symbol. He came to resent the neediness of Jewish fans, and he just wanted to blend in others. He hated the myth that when he was chasing Babe Ruth's record that pitchers refused to give him good pitches to hit because he was Jewish. Although he continually denied it, the story persisted.

Greenberg died in 1986 at the age of 75, and Kurlansky writes that "baseball alone could never explain his life. Baseball was not the goal of his life, just a tool for achieving his goal."

This slim 150-page book is an excellent introduction to Hank Greenberg, who longed to be referred to as a great baseball player, not a great Jewish baseball player. Author Kurlansky balances Jewish history with baseball history, educating readers who may lack knowledge in one or both of the topics.

Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town
Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town
by Mirta Ojito
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.27
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4.0 out of 5 stars When cultures collide, October 27, 2013
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Veteran journalist Mirta Ojito examines a pressing problem in suburban America: the culture clash between long-established residents and newly arrived Hispanic immigrants. Too often this tension erupts in violence, with angry young suburbanites attacking newcomers. Such was the case in Patchogue, N.Y., where seven teenage boys killed an undocumented Ecuadorean immigrant in 2008.

Ojito remains objective as she tells the story. She avoids the national immigration debate and remains focused on small-town America. We meet Patchogue's leaders, and watch them struggle to integrate two disparate groups into a single community. Ojito places the Hispanic influx in historic context, comparing and contrasting it with European immigration waves of the past.

"Hunting Season" is an interesting book, but it's not an easy read. The language lacks polish and clarity, making it feel more like a first draft. Ojito quotes extensively from textbooks, statistical surveys, and newspaper reports. These are good sources, but such lengthy passages slow down the story unnecessarily.

While imperfect, Ojito's detailed study sheds light not only on a single tragedy, but a dire social dilemma unfolding in towns and villages all across the country.

The Best American Sports Writing 2013
The Best American Sports Writing 2013
by Glenn Stout
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.46
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5.0 out of 5 stars They don't call it "The Best American Sports Writing" for nothing, October 19, 2013
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They don't call this annual collection of articles "The Best American Sports Writing" for nothing.

The book contains 26 articles about bullfighting, bowling, basketball, football, baseball, marathon running, weightlifting, soccer, surfing and swimming. The articles, ranging from three to 25 pages, originally appeared in print publications such as Sports Illustrated, GQ, Outside, Boston Magazine, ESPN: The Magazine, Men's Journal, The New Yorker, The New York Times and online pubs such as and

Series editor Glenn Stout writes that the book is "about people and what concerns us--love, death, desire, labor and loss--more than the simple results of a game or competition." He points out that long-form journalism is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance as the desire to read is unstoppable.

Editor J. R. Moehringer adds that "Sports are a theater of loss, of struggle and despair, of real pain and real blood and primal disappointment, which is why the best sports writing seems to reach back, back, like a discus thrower, to touch the ancient myths."

I have learned from past collections of "The Best American Sports Writing" that every article is worth reading, and I read all 26 straight through. The two most disturbing articles were "Did Football Kill Austin Trenum?" by Patrick Hruby and "The NFL's Secret Drug Problem" by Paul Solotaroff. The most touching and memorable article was "Mourning Glory" by Chris Ballard. I also thoroughly enjoyed "At Swim, Two Girls: A Memoir" by Bridget Quinn. Three articles about marathon runners, "The Marathon Man" by Mark Singer, "Caballo Blanco's Last Run" by Barry Bearak and "Redemption of the Running Man" by Dan Koeppel were all more interesting than I thought they would have been.

Whether you enjoy great writing or sports, or both, this annual collection is well worth your time.

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