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Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life Hardcover – July 3, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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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.)
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“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)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (July 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061343498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061343490
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,373,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a weird book in a lot of ways. It's very good written and one will usually read it fast. But here are my thoughts about it:

It seems the book was written to capitalize on James' successes in the 20005/2006 season, when he came to proeminence mainly due to the great match against Agassi in the 2005 US Open. That year, his rowdy and supportive organized fans called "The J-Block" began to be noticed also. Suddenly, James was being called to interviews with Oprah, Letterman, everybody, when it became known aout his problmes, be it: death of his father due to stomach cancer; an impact against a net pole in Rome which could have made him paralysed and an attack of herpes zoster.

Well, I knew about it before buying the book, and in no way I was going to read it to be upflifted by his will power or whatever. Don't need that. All the things he have passed, a lot of people have suffered or worse (mainly, unfortunately, the loss of a family member to cancer - including myself). Also, situations that may threaten a career. I bought the book to read about tennis and tennis life on the Tour and also, of course, because Blake's style of playing was fantastic in my opinion: aggressive, straight shots, big serve, one-hand backhand.

But here was so little of it. Blake claims that the suffering made himn realize how he was fortunate to be a professional tennis player, because the players live ina bubble and don't know about the reality of it. But this is not very clear in the book. In no way it seems that James was "lost" personally. On the contrary, he says over and over again that his parents always put things in perspective, including how study wa so important (James went to college befeore turning pro).

Maybe he did not want to bore readers with descriptions after descriptions of countless tennis matches but, after the zoster thing, the book seems to be an endless "thanks" to his friends, to the point of becoming repetitive.
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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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