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.
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.
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.
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.
on March 27, 2014
I am not an American, but I love sports. The book is sometimes funny, but sometimes a little boring and too long. John Feinstein is very honest about his feelings towards people. If he does not like one - he is very critical and sometimes unfair. I don't have to like a person, but I have to acknowledge his achievements. If John does not like you, he will try to find something even in your best moments. On the other hand, if he likes you, he will defend you even if the case is not defendable.
All in all, if you are sport junkie-then grab the book and read it.
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.
on March 2, 2012
Wonderful insight to the workings of one of the premier sports writers of our times. We get to"see" and "hear" how Fienstein has interviewed and followed... watched and at times cheered during diverse sports from Wimbledon to the Army Navy game. He confirms my assessment of Bob Knight as a bully and the courage of the young men who guard our country and play in one of the great rivalries. Long after the details of the stories and faces of the people fade... I will remember "I lay me down to bleed for awhile, but I will rise again."
on February 13, 2013
Feinstein is just great. I read the Red Auerbach book (Let Me Tell You a Story) and being a casual non-celtics sports fan it was a great read. Mr. Feinstein is a very gifted storyteller and I felt like I was sitting right next to him as he relives stories from his past. I'm about halfway through this book and just loving it. If you're a casual sports fan you won't regret picking up this book.
on January 15, 2012
"One on One" is a wonderful collection of John Feinstein's experiences writing books about Army-Navy football, college basketball, and pro tennis and golf. His descriptions of the subjects of his books are both funny and touching, particularly the connections he made with the players that he met doing research for the Army-Navy book. His stories about getting the access he needed to write his books make you feel like you are with him every step of the way. His insights about both well-known people (Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, Mike Krzyzewski, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, among others) and others whom you never heard of are outstanding. I've read several of his other books and now I want to read others that I missed. Loved each and every word.
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.