Monday, January 28, 2013

Divided We Fail, by Sarah Garland

As a nation, we have made great strides toward racial equality--there's a popular African-American in the White House, after all--yet in certain segments of American society, disparities persist.  There is perhaps no greater glaring disparity as the differences in achievement levels between African-Americans and other students in our public schools.  School desegregation arguably led to some progress for blacks, but, as Sarah Garland tells the story in Divided We Fail: The Story of an African-American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation, many African-Americans recognize that desegregation is not a panacea leading to equality but may make things worse for black students.

Garland focuses on the story of public school desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky.  Like many communities, in Louisville, students were bused all over the district to satisfy mandated quotas of black and white students.  Many blamed the decline of black neighborhoods on this dispersion of students from neighborhood schools.  Without the anchor of a common school, neighbors felt less attachment and pride in the neighborhood.  In fact, some of the traditionally majority black schools had seen great improvements, winning battles for better facilities and materials.  But when busing began, the student base dispersed, and the black community lost some of its unification.

Many black students lost the opportunity to attend schools in their neighborhoods.  They also lost the opportunity to attend school with black peers, and to be taught by black teachers.  In fact, many black teachers and administrators lost their positions.  White parents weren't happy about their children attending class with black kids, but to be taught by black teachers, well, that was unthinkable.  The end result "felt like an effort to assimilate black people and erase their identity and culture, and, at the same time, seemed like a not-so-subtle way of reasserting white dominance over blacks."

Another part of the irony was that black students were being excluded from special programs based on their race!  This is what triggered the case about which Garland spends the most time in her book.  In order to revitalize the traditionally black high school, several magnet programs and special emphasis programs were created.  But white students generally didn't want to attend that school.  As the white population declined, few quota slots for black students were available.  When black students were then denied entry, parents started the lawsuit that, thankfully, led to the end of mandated desegregation in Louisville.  As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, "The was to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

The most troubling, overarching theme of Divided We Fail is the sick consequences of excessive government intervention.  One sure way to destroy something is to add more and more government policies.  The school system, black neighborhoods, African-American cultural identity, and black-white race relations were all harmed by the misguided hand of government intrusion in Louisville.  I like to think that there were good intentions behind many of these policies, but the cynic in me tends to think that white, racist leaders were perfectly happy and had full knowledge of what they were doing.  This case, and the whole Louisville busing experience, demonstrates yet another example of the many and varied ways that government harms society, especially the poorest and most marginal.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Terrorism Delusion, by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart

Most of my entries here at The Reading Glutton are book reviews, but I read a journal article the other day that I thought worth passing along.  Like many Americans, I have been terribly frustrated by the overly expensive and largely ineffective expansion of state power in the name of defeating terrorism.  John Mueller, of Ohio State University, and Mark G. Stewart, of the University of Newcastle (Australia), argue in "The Terrorism Delusion" that our collective response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was overblown and has lead to unnecessary expenditures.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, the common theme from government officials and the media was that the attacks were the first of many to come, that we had entered a new era of warfare.  The belief was commonly held that the attacks were a harbinger of things to come, not an aberration.  Anti-terrorism efforts and increased security measures sprang up without regard to cost, and, unlike policies regarding programs dealing with natural disasters or other emergency situations, no thought was giving to cost/benefit analysis.

Based on accepted risk analysis methods, Mueller and Stewart demonstrate that in order to justify the expense for expanding domestic security, we would have to 333 attacks each year.  Obviously, we haven't had anything close to that number.  The author's examine 50 thwarted attacks in the years since 9/11, and found that all of them have been described by words like "incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, and foolish."  Even if any of the would-be terrorists had succeeded perfectly, none would have come close to the devastation of 9/11.

The bottom line is that money is being spent without regard to effectiveness.  Funds are being wasted, lives are not being saved, and, ultimately, our freedom and prosperity are being eroded.  I wish policy makers everywhere would spend a few minutes reading this article or their book on the subject.

International Security, vol 37, no 1 (Summer 2012), pp. 81-110.  (Lest you think this is some right-wing diatribe, note that International Security is a peer-reviewed journal published by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.)

The article can be found here:

The book can be found at

Friday, January 25, 2013

Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye, by Zac Unger

Polar bears are unquestionably beautiful and awe-inspiring.  We love to put them on Christmas decorations watch them drink Coke on TV.  They are quite photogenic; movies like Arctic Tale (which Unger hilariously described as "a wretched pseudo-documentary about a polar bear family, narrated by the noted Arctic researcher Queen Latifah") and countless TV shows draw us in, sometimes even reminding us that they are deadly meat eaters.  Most of us will never get closer to a polar bear than seeing one on the screen or maybe in a zoo.  A lucky few of us will pay for a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, to spend time in Spartan conditions in this Canadian wilderness outpost for the chance to see these majestic animals up close.  Zac Unger took his polar bear curiosity a step further, moving his whole family from California to Churchill for several months.

With his first-hand accounts of life in polar bear country, reflections on the state of polar bear research, and a good dose of his wit and cute family stories, Unger's Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic's Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows is an entertaining and informative read.  As a committed environmentalist, Unger bought the story that the polar bears are dying and that unless we do something about global warming, they will be extinct, and soon.  What he found is that the story is not so simple.

As a scientist named Rocky, who has lived and conducted research in polar bear country for decades, tells Unger, climate change does not necessarily lead to extinction.  We can't predict what the effect of their environment changing will be.  "It's the height of hubris to say with certainty that polar bears are an evolutionary dead end and that they can't adapt."  Unger remains an environmentalist, but he objects to  misleading, alarmist tactics in the name of environmentalism.  In spite of what we hear from Queen Latifah, Al Gore, and countless celebrities wanting to attach themselves to a trendy cause, "there are about 25,000 polar bears alive today, as compared to the 5,000 bears that roamed the earth in 1973."  Unger is probably too "green" for some, not green enough for others; he just tells it like he sees it.

The most entertaining part of the book is his stories of life in the Arctic.  A portion of his time is spent with Rocky and his colleagues searching out and cataloging polar bear poop.  It's not as exciting as shooting bears with tranquilizer darts and tattooing their gums, but more effective and produces more accurate population estimates.  As he acclimates to life in Churchill, he observes that "in the Arctic, everything is more difficult than it seems, and infinitely less profitable," and just about every story he tells confirms it.

Perhaps Unger's goal, in part is to discourage the polar bear tourism to Churchill.  Of the tour companies who take tourists out in the oversized tundra buggies to view the polar bears, "there's no choice but to pick one of the two [government approved] companies and let it rummage around in your wallet."  On the buggy itself, amenities are sparse, uncomfortable, and cold.  And when you see the bears, you realize that "actual bear watching was a poor substitute for watching  a show about bears on television.  Out here, there was nobody to edit out the slow parts.  And at the time of year, a bear's whole goal in life is to be as slow as possible."

If you have an interest in polar bears, or just love a fun travelogue/nature journal, pick up Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye.  Among other things, you'll learn, as Unger's young son did, the many things that are different about Churchill.  Among other things, he observes, "What's different is that you wake me up in the middle of the night and we go outside in the snow in our pajamas and there are bears in the backyard."  Yes, Churchill is different.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reset, by Peter Bagge

My favorite feature of my favorite magazine (Reason) is Peter Bagge's features.  Much more than a political cartoonist, his comic-book style political and social commentaries are worth the price of a subscription.  An issue without something from Bagge, no matter what else it might offer, is a disappointment.  Check out his Reason cartoons here.

But his work in Reason is only a small part of his oeuvre.  His latest comic books have been collected in Reset, a series of 4 comic books now in one volume.  He takes a bit of a sci-fi turn, giving his slacker main character (His characters are typically slackers.) the opportunity to participate in a neurological experiment.  Hooked up to this new machine, this out-of-work actor is taken back to he high school days, and can make different choices at key turning points of his life, thus given a chance to reset.

Of course, nothing is as it seems.  And life is much more complicated than we think.  Reset is full of off-beat humor, somewhat thoughtful reflections on life, and Bagge's characteristic black-and-white art. Bagge fans will want to pick this up.  Reason readers looking for some of his great political and cultural insight will be disappointed.  I liked it, but if you're not a fan of alternative comics, don't bother.
Strapping in for immersion

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

No Easy Choice, by Ellen Painter Dollar

When Ellen Painter Dollar and her husband decided to have children, they knew their child would have a 50/50 chance of inheriting from Ellen osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), more commonly known as brittle bone disease.  Having lived with it all her life, and with memories of a painful childhood full of broken bones and casts, she was devastated when her first child was diagnosed with OI.  Still wanting to have children, she and her husband decided that for their next child, they would avail themselves of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a means by which eggs fertilized with in vitro fertilization can be genetically tested for specific genetic traits.

In No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advance Reproduction, Dollar tells her story while exploring the moral, ethical, and theological questions her family faced during that time.  This is a deeply personal book which, without moralizing or forcing conclusions, explores perspectives on disability, on the beginning of life, and parenthood.

Ellen and family. Spoiler: the two younger kids do not have OI.
I was particularly interested in Dollar's views on disability.  If a family selects embryos in order to avoid having a child with a disability, what does that say about how they, or we as a society, value individuals with disabilities?  Shouldn't parents want to prevent suffering for their children?  If they can do so by not having a child with a disability, shouldn't they stop that pregnancy before it starts?  Would it be "a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease," as the Nobel-prize-winning developer of IVF suggested?

Dollar makes it clear that she believes we should by all means value individuals with disabilities.  She does not regret having her oldest daughter, OI and all, but she does wish she didn't have OI.  She acknowledges the impact that OI has had on her life, and the wisdom she has gained.  But "if given a choice between having the wisdom that comes from disability on one hand, and on the other hand forgoing the disability and perhaps some of the wisdom as well, I'd choose the latter."

She points out that parents want to protect their children from injury, hoping, for instance, that they won't have an accident that will paralyze them.  This is not because they don't value paralytics, but that they would prefer that their children not be paralyzed.  However, in my mind, this argument breaks down when applied to PGD.  Is she saying it's better never to have been born than to have been born with a painful or crippling condition?  On this side of the delivery room, it's an easy choice; no one (well, almost no one) wants to see children with disabilities euthanized.  But before implantation, the parent is making the determination that, for instance, it's better not to live at all than to live with Down syndrome, OI, or other condition.

As you can see, these decisions are profound and personal.  In telling her story, Dollar puts flesh and blood onto ethical dilemmas that may seem cut-and-dried to many.  She writes as a Christian, and would call herself pro-life, but many in the political sphere who are pro-life would reject her as not pro-life enough.  As her title suggests, parent who have genetic disabilities, or who are facing IVF and PGD, have some very difficult choices to make.  No Easy Choice can be a valuable resource for parents who are considering PGD and IVF as well as for the family, clergy, and medical professionals around them.

Learn more about Ellen at her blog

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Racketeer, by John Grisham

John Grisham has done it again.  He has cranked out another yarn to keep you awake turning the pages late into the night.  With much that will be familiar to Grisham's readers, The Racketeer tells the story of disillusionment with the legal system, revenge, and a quest for personal redemption.  Grisham does take a turn that I didn't expect, with a con job worthy of a David Mamet film.

Malcolm Bannister made the mistake of naively taking the wrong client and got roped into a major racketeering case.  Though he did nothing wrong (intentionally, anyway), he ended up doing time in a federal prison, where he gained a reputation among inmates as a great jailhouse lawyer.  Using information gleaned from other inmates, he offers information about the murder of a federal judge in exchange for his freedom.  The feds give him a cash reward and a new identity, and Bannister begins his plot in earnest.

Bannister, who I believe is Grisham's first African-American main character, has the brains and devious wits of many of his other characters.  The Racketeer itself has the brains but quite a bit more wit (in various senses of the word) than other Grisham novels.  I knew there was something fishy going on, and at first blamed it on the stupid story.  I should have known better; Grisham puts it all together with flair.

Grisham doesn't write for high-brow literary meat, but as a story teller.  He spins a tasty yarn here that, more so than many of his other books, will satisfy your literary sweet tooth.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is an American treasure, a skilled writer who, with his critical, journalistic eye, colorfully describes and diagnoses American culture.  In his newest book, Back to Blood, he turns his eye to the quirky, multi-cultural hodgepodge that is Miami.  The story spans across Miami's spectrum, including the Cuban community, the black neighborhood of Overtown, the rich private islands, and the shifting relationships among them.

Wolfe readers will recognize many familiar themes and character types in Back to Blood.  When a Cuban cop assists in the rescue of a Cuban political refugee, resulting in the refugee's deportation, the Cuban community turns against the cop, as does his Cuban girlfriend, who is having an affair with her white boss, a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist's specialty is treating wealthy patient's sexual addictions, but his own sexual addictions are on full display.  The psychiatrist's number one patient is a lover of modern art, and brings his doctor into the world of big money art shows.  The Russian art patrons he meets, however, might be involved in moving high-dollar fakes.

Back to Blood is fast-moving, light reading, but I found it to be a very satisfying read.  Wolfe's use of language, vivid descriptive passages, right-on dialogue, and sense of reality sucked me in; I found myself looking forward to the next time I could dive into the book.  All that said, I still felt like it was just a notch below some of Wolfe's great prior works.  It's definitely worth a read, not to be missed by Wolfe fans, and sure to be enjoyed by readers who discover him for the first time.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Future Games, ed. Paula Guran

Who could have predicted that state of sports 200 years ago?  Many of the sports we love today didn't even exist, or existed only in some other form.  Some games seem eternal (chess), while others are introduced every year.  It's fun to see how games and sports are portrayed in movies and TV, and it's fun to read more detailed exposition in this anthology, Future Games, edited by Paula Guran.  Like any anthology, there were some stories here I enjoyed, some not as much.  Some authors were familiar, some I've never heard of (which probably says more about me than about the authors).  Guran has gathered an entertaining, eclectic group of stories here, with enough good reading to satisfy any sports sci-fi fan.

These stories are culled primarily from sci-fi magazines like Analog and Amazing Stories.  Some are as old as the 1960s, some published in the last few years.  Without listing all of them, I will just highlight some of the more memorable stories.

In "Will the Chill," John Shirley introduces a game in which the players control the orbits and direction of planets, smashing them together while the universe watches.

If you have not read Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game, you can read the short story here on which that novel was based.

Similarly, Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game" gives a preview of the worker's rebellion in his novel For the Win.

Before George R.R. Martin wrote about games of thrones, he was writing about the game of football, specifically what would happen when members of an alien race living on earth field a football team in the local youth football league.

In "Breakaway," George Alec Effinger explores what might happen if a hockey rink were measures in miles across the surface of an ice planet, rather than on the small rink we know.

In Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's "Distance," aliens finally make first contact, through the universal language of -- baseball!

And in "Unsportsmanlike Conduct," Scott Westerfield uses baseball to bring together a team of scientists with an indigenous race on the planet Tau.

Finally, Walter Moudy describes what it might look like if nations agree to settle their differences in an arena, rather than at their borders or on the battlefields.

I particularly like the recurring theme in these stories of sport bringing people together.  I've never had first contact with another race or species, but in my limited experiences in traveling to foreign countries, I have found that sports and games bridge language and cultural barriers beautifully.  Like any anthology, some of the stories will be great and memorable, some you might want to skip over.  There are enough clever ideas and good storytelling in this collection to keep you reading, and who knows, maybe some clever person in the future will bring some of these games to reality.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Tea, Jesus? by James Lark

What would happen if Jesus showed up at your church?  In More Tea, Jesus? James Lark tells the story of a little country church in England whose feathers are slightly ruffled by Jesus' appearance among them.  With tongue set firmly in cheek, Lark pokes fun at the Anglicans, the priesthood, and church people in general.

At St. Barnabas, the parish church in Little Colleytown, Andy Biddle is trying to fit in as the new vicar.  He, as well as some of his members, have noticed the scruffy, Jewish-looking man who has been visiting for a few weeks.  No one has spoken to him, but once he introduces himself as Jesus, everyone immediately recognizes him. Unfortunately, the personal time the people of St. Barnabas get to spend with Jesus makes little difference to their lives.

Some of Biddle's colleagues have the right idea about Jesus, at least in theory.  Before realizing that Jesus was, in fact, in town, Biddle mediated an argument between a couple of fellow priests.  One was wanting to make the point that point of being a priest is to serve, and that Jesus, who set the example for us by washing the disciple's feet, would "be the first person to help put out chairs for events in the church hall."  In fact, Jesus was across town, feeding kebabs to some homeless men. "Jesus explained to them what went on inside his Father's house.  They listened in rapt silence, until Jesus finally asked them to come home with him.  It was an open invitation he had been extending to anybody and everybody, but the people who were interested were mainly the homeless and disenfranchised."

Other than the homeless, most of Little Colleytown is unimpressed with Jesus.  His grooming is not up to snuff, and Biddle never gets comfortable with Jesus as a house guest.  Lark's characters are laugh-out-loud hilarious, a crazy mix of people who will surely remind you of someone you went to church with.  You'll especially love to hate the choir director, who believes he was meant for much greater things than St. Barnabas's incompetent choir and organist, and who just can't help using the Lord's name in vain, even though the Lord is sitting just a few feet away.

I would be curious to know where James Lark stands religiously.  I suspect he's an Anglican insider, who would love to see the church move forward socially.  One major subplot has Biddle encouraging a young parishioner to explore his homosexual leanings by going to a gay nightclub.  Lark does leave some ambiguity as to what Jesus says about homosexuality, but presumably Lark would like to see Anglicanism embrace homosexuals.  On the other hand (or not on the other hand, depending on your views), Lark seems to call for more faithfulness from the church and the priesthood.  Biddle's bishop personifies the cynicism, materialism, and theological weakness of the church.  He chides Biddle for putting too much stock in scripture: "Oh, it's a very nice book, Andy -- but it's not real. . . . The Bible is meant to be an encouragement, not an instruction manual.  Start believing all that stuff about God and you're headed for disappointment." 

Ultimately, Jesus' second coming has very little impact on St. Barnabas and the rest of the world.  Some did accept Jesus' invitation to come with him, knowing "they had been offered an invitation that it would be foolish to turn down."  They "saw a new earth altogether, and the things that had been were no longer worth remembering."  (Read that last phrase again -- I love it and it reminds me of something C.S. Lewis would have said.)  But mostly life went on in Little Colleytown. Again, the bishop chides Biddle: "Jesus doesn't need to come into your work at all -- a lot of priests go their whole careers without even mentioning him."  Village life and parish life were unchanged.  As the Bishop of London said, when Jesus didn't show up for what they hoped would be a cameo performance in the Good Friday Passion Play, "they didn't need Jesus, they could jolly well do it themselves.  That was the Anglican way."

Amidst the laughing at the parishioners of St. Barnabas, I have to think, What if Jesus came to my church?  I have to confess that we might have a similar response.  Perhaps, like Biddle and his church, we would be too busy and too absorbed in this world to follow him to the next.  I hope not.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Unexpected Gifts, by Christopher Heuertz

I have never lived in an intentional community.  The closest I have come was when I lived in a drug and alcohol rehab house, in a neighborhood where several staff and volunteers of a church and related ministry also lived.  Even though we did not share a common purse (combining our incomes), there was a great deal of material sharing and a fantastic sense of family.  The geographical proximity, a shared mission of serving the city's poor, and common desire to faithfully follow Jesus' teachings made this tight-knit group a true community.  It was the greatest spiritual and social period of my life.

Reading Christopher Heuertz's new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, gave me a sense of nostalgia and longing for those times.  Heuertz is executive directer of Word Made Flesh, an organization committed to "serving Jesus among the poorest of the poor."  Unexpected Gifts tells a little bit of the story of Word Made Flesh, but I could only infer a little from the book.  Apparently WMF is made up of communities around the world who live intentionally (and, presumably, communally) in very poor areas, ministering among the residents.

Unexpected Gifts will appeal most to those who are, or are considering, living communally.  Heuertz presents an honest picture, not glossing over some of the difficulties of community living, especially when the community has chosen to live in a slum or other marginal setting.  He starts out by saying the book is "about the cost of community, not positive spin.  In community, there will always be a series of losses, giving something up to gain something more.  But in the giving up, we find better versions of ourselves."  Community life is "far worse than you expect it to be; but in the end, it's far better than you could ever imagine."

With that ringing endorsement of community life, Heuertz endeavors to reveal the "unexpected gifts" that we can find in community.  Although most of us will never live the way Heuertz and his Word Made Flesh community  members live, Unexpected Gifts can still be a valuable read.  One major weakness of the church, and churches, in the U.S. is the lack of real community.  Very few of us would consider communal living, but we are called to bear one another's burdens and live life together.  We find ourselves in communities of people who are "a group of coworkers trying to be friends" rather than "friends who chose to work together."  We attempt to build inclusive communities without confessing "the poverty of our friendships."  We are called to build authentic relationships, with true friends who know that "we're not as bad as our worst moments and often worse than our best."

If you live or work in a communal setting, especially as in a ministry or mission station, add Unexpected Gifts to your required reading list.  For the rest of us, read it and long for the kind of authentic community Heuertz describes and ask yourself what's missing from your community and the relationships in your life.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary review copy!

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Les Miserables (Radio Theatre)

You've read the book, you've seen the musical,  you've seen the movie, now you've seen the movie musical.  If that's not enough for you, pick up Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre adaptation of Victor Hugo's beloved classic, Les Miserables.  True to their radio roots, Focus on the Family does radio theater well.  This is by no means an audio book.  It's a true dramatization, with a large cast of actors and actresses, who tell the story through dialogue and sound effects.

Enjoying this program, which is about 3 hours long, is all about expectations.  If you want the full story of Les Miserables, with all of its interconnected plots and subplots, along with Hugo's rich character studies and descriptive passages, you will be sorely disappointed.  But let's be realistic.  My Everyman's Library edition runs well over 1000 pages.  There's no way a 3 hour movie, a 3 hour musical, or a 3 hour radio theatre adaptation will capture all of that.

But if you listen to this production with the expectation of a well-acted, enjoyable program which captures the kernel of Hugo's story, you'll be delighted.  The actors are terrific (Although I always wonder, when the original is in French or German or some other language, why British accents are normally used.  Is it simply anglophilia?) and the sound effects give eyes to your ears.  And, in spite of the story compression of this epic novel, the story hangs together well.

My biggest complaint is the dynamic range.  In a quiet theater or at home in the living room, when a barely audible whisper one moment is followed by a noisy explosion and shouting the next, no problem.  But listening to this in the car during a road trip, I had to keep turning it way up to hear over the road noise, then crank it back down when it got loud.  Maybe this is a personal problem. . . .

This Radio Theatre production is not a replacement for the book, but it is a worthy introduction to a great work of literature.  I'll never get my 11 year old to read the book (I shouldn't say never.  It would be a long shot, though.), but this production can at least get kids, and adults, for that matter, into the story.  Enjoy!

Thanks to the Tyndale Blog Network for the complimentary copy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hoop Genius, by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse

In our sports-crazy world, it's hard to imagine life without basketball.  You can hardly drive through your neighborhood without seeing a hoop, on people's driveways or at the school playground.  Churches, schools, community centers abound with basketball courts.  The NCAA tournament is one of the top sporting events every year, NBA players are paid astronomical salaries, and basketball is one of the major attractions at the Olympics.

For the sport that now holds such universal appeal, we can thank James Naismith.  In an effort to bring some order to a rowdy gym class, Naismith invented what we now know as basketball.  It's a familiar story that John Coy tells in Hoops Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball.  Joe Morse's illustrations bring the story to life, capturing the period (1891) and the energy of Naismith's pioneering players.

My favorite part is the reproduction of the typed rules that Naismith posted in the gym for the boys to read as they were learning the game.  It's remarkable how much the game still looks like Naismith's vision.  The biggest omission was dribbling.  The original rules don't seem to allow for moving while dribbling the ball.  Before the introduction of dribbling, basketball must have looked more like ultimate frisbee.  Ultimate basketball. . . that would be interesting. . . .

Hoop Genius is a fun, colorful introduction to the invention of basketball.  Thanks to Naismith, for inventing a great game, and thanks to Coy and Morse for bringing it to life!

And thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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