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It’s safe to say that the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s were the greatest dynasty in American professional sports. One could try to make arguments for other teams in other sports, but in terms of pure extended dominance, it’s tough to argue against eight consecutive championships and 11 titles in 13 seasons.

It’s also tough to argue against any two players being more vital to those victories than Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. But despite their brilliant dynamic on the court, their relationship beyond basketball is something a little more complicated.

Both aspects of the Cousy/Russell link are explored in Gary Pomerantz’s new book “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, and What Matters in the End” (Penguin Press, $28). Built around a years-long series of interviews with Cousy, the book explores the history of that dynastic time in Celtics history and examines an NBA that might have disappeared forever had Cousy and Russell not come along, all while also looking at issues of race in a particularly tumultuous time in our society.

Published in Sports

Here in 2018, the television entertainment options presented to us are truly staggering. Between broadcast networks, cable channels and an ever-increasing number of streaming services, it feels as though there are nigh-infinite options for new content.

And yet, for many of us, the choice is to look back. Whether it is a nostalgia trip or a youthful discovery of a show from before our time, we use the Netflixes and Hulus of the world to watch what was beloved a generation ago.

We watch “Friends.”

Why does this sitcom about six, well … friends living in New York City from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s still resonate? Why is it still among the most watched programs in both streaming AND syndication, even well over a decade after the final new episode aired?

That’s the central question behind Kelsey Miller’s excellent retrospective “I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends” (Hanover Square Press, $26.99). This thorough and thoughtful book goes deep on the beloved show, exploring the behind-the-scenes making of the show as well as the broader pop cultural impact it had during its decade-long run.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 18:10

‘The Library Book’ worth checking out

I’ve always considered libraries to be magical places.

My childhood was marked by eagerly-anticipated twice-monthly trips to the Bangor Public Library, where my voracious and omnivorous reading habits were readily sated. I’d spend hours wandering the shelves, putting together an impressive stack of books – one far larger than was generally allowed – and getting checked out with a smile and a “See you soon!”

Susan Orlean is a lifelong fan of libraries as well. Her latest book is “The Library Book” (Simon & Schuster, $28), yet another marvelous piece of writing from one of the best nonfiction authors of our time. Using a single foundational event – the massive fire that took place at the Los Angeles Public Library over 30 years ago – Orlean constructs a paean to libraries, leaning into LAPL-related specifics while also spinning off into thoughtful and celebratory musings on the intellectual, cultural, historical and political impact of libraries.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 18:07

Taking command – ‘8-Bit Apocalypse’

In this age of esports and gaming computers and generational consoles, it can be easy to forget that video games have been on the entertainment scene for a relatively brief time. In the industry’s nascent years, video games were shared experiences, only playable through pumping quarter after quarter into game cabinets in arcades across the world.

Those early days serve as the setting for Alex Rubens’s new book “8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story of Atari’s Missile Command” (The Overlook Press, $26.95). It’s a look at the world of video games – and the culture at large – through the lens of one specific game, the Atari classic “Missile Command.”

Through that one game, Rubens examines the explosion of the industry in the late 1970s and juxtaposes it with the Cold War political climate of the time – a comparison for which “Missile Command” was uniquely suited. It also allows for a look at how video games in general have impacted – and continue to impact - the culture at large.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:20

New novel proves a worthy ‘Foe’

What is it that makes us who we are? And just what would it take to create something that accurately captures that indefinable something?

“Foe” (Gallery, $25.99) by Iain Reid is structured around that deceptively simple question. We all think we know what it is that makes us tick, but what if there were someone out there who wanted – who NEEDED to find a way to accurately recreate you for reasons that were seemingly important yet unfortunately murky.

What Reid has built is a philosophical puzzle-box of a novel, a near-future speculative journey that explores the notion of self-determinism and the lengths to which we will go to execute our perceived duty – both to ourselves and to those about whom we care the most.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 03 October 2018 12:50

Love hurts – ‘Heartbreaker’

Considering the wealth of recent works that marry genre conventions with literary fiction, you might think that there’s little left in the way of potential surprises. No matter how rich the vein might be – and it has proven to be rich indeed – you’d imagine that it would be difficult to mine something new and fresh from that lode.

And then you read something like Claudia Dey’s “Heartbreaker” (Random House, $26) and realize that there are creative powerhouses out there continuing to strike literary gold. It’s a novel about coming of age and motherhood and sexual politics wrapped in a sci-fi dressing of alternate history and cult dynamics. It is powerful and thought-provoking and unrelentingly weird – both in the tale and in the telling.

It shines.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:38

‘Football for a Buck’ remembers the USFL

In many ways, the NFL is one of the last vestiges of American monoculture. In a world where the zeitgeist moves exponentially faster and more unpredictably with each year that passes, there are few entities that are as familiar, as entrenched, as overwhelmingly present as the NFL. Football is America’s sport and the NFL IS football.

But pro football was almost very different.

Jeff Pearlman’s new book “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28) tells the story of the last pro football league to pose a serious challenge to the NFL’s domination of the football landscape. For a brief moment in the mid-1980s, the USFL looked poised to assume a spot alongside the NFL in the American sporting landscape. The pieces were there to succeed, but unfortunately – thanks to some massive individual egos and more than a little hubris – the league flamed out.

Published in Sports

There’s no denying that Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick are among the greatest coaches in the history of football. One can argue about their relative placements in the pantheon, but it’s difficult to dispute either’s placement among the greatest of the greats. Meanwhile, Raiders owner Al Davis spent decades as the free-wheeling outlaw of the NFL’s leadership class, bringing his own unique ideas and passions to the game.

And Michael Lombardi worked under all of them.

Those relationships form the basis for Lombardi’s new book “Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL” (Crown Archetype, $27). It’s a chance for Lombardi to impart the myriad lessons he has gleaned over his decades of working with some of the finest football minds in history.

Published in Sports

What if you looked around one day and saw all the success in the world … only it wasn’t what you wanted?

That’s the central question being asked by Barry Cohen, the protagonist of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel “Lake Success” (Random House, $28). It’s a story of discontent among the one percent, a look-in on the lives of people whose problems are both wildly different and oddly similar to our own. It’s also a sharp and whip-smart deconstruction of the American Dream – one in which the dreamer discovers that maybe they didn’t want it to come true after all.

Published in Buzz

Sarah Bernhardt is one of the most legendary names in the world of the theater. She was the first global superstar actress, renowned for her beauty and talent on both sides of the Atlantic. Her performances were considered iconic, once in a lifetime experiences to behold. Her fame has transcended centuries; even today, lovers of the stage know her name and have heard of her exploits.

And yet … she had a rival. A rival whose naturalistic approach to acting bore a much closer resemblance to the modern theater than any of the highly stylized work being presented by Bernhardt. A rival who might have been even better. Eleonora Duse’s name has been lost to history, unfamiliar to all but the most devoted of theater historians, but in her heyday, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Berhardt’s greatness.

Peter Rader’s “Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry that Changed Acting Forever” (Simon & Schuster, $26) takes a deep dive into this once-storied and largely-forgotten chapter of theater history, looking at the relationship between two women who ascended to the greatest heights of their profession, but took drastically different paths to get there.

Published in Style
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