A few more Christmas book reviews, in a snap

All the best-selling sports books for this holiday season — you know how to find ‘em.

The Mickey Mantle book by Jane Levy (linked here). The Andre Agassi autobiograph (linked here). Even the annual best sportswriting book (linked here) has the usual good stuff.

We’re attempting instead to characterize some of the somewhat under-the-radar but still-fresh sports page-turners out there for purchase, general perusal or possibly using as a doorstop, in 140 words (not characters), no more or less:

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== “Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of An American City”
By Jay Jennings, $25.99, Rodale, 255 pages
Find it at this link
Summary: Fifty years after the historic Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine integration incident — look it up if you’re not familiar with it — home-town-bred Jennings examines the 2007 Central High School football team, in a “Friday Night Lights” sort-of treatment. Thanks to coach Bernie Cox, who previously shunned the spotlight, for giving Jennings amazing access to the underfunded program, exposing how this team didn’t bond the same way as others did. “You go to school at lunchtime and you’ll see,” one player says. “The white students are sitting together and the black students are together. They don’t ever get close.” Social change doesn’t always guarantee acceptance, and Cox’s new Code of Conduct pushes things back in the right direction and strikes a chord. As does this book.

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== “Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe”
By Kate Buford, $35, Knoff, 480 pages
Find it at this link
Summary: Buford decided to dig into this subject after doing a biography of Burt Lancaster, who played Thorpe in the movies. And there’s a lot of digging to do. Thorpe, voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century by the Associated Press, is a much more complicated historical figure, but also a bridge from the Wild West to today’s professional sports structure. The 1912 U.S. Olympic decathlon champ (who had his gold later stripped because of a stint as a semi-pro baseball player) was the victim of double standards and racism, and “looms larger (these days) because there wasn’t more concrete evidence (via media),” says Buford. “He’s kept this aura; he just kind of sits out there, pre-technology.” He’s definitely flawed — alcoholism, failed marriages, poor money decision. But it’s refreshing to have his story finally told as complete as possible.

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== “One Step at a Time: A Young Marine’s Story of Courage, Hope and a New Life in the NFL”
By Josh Bleill and Mark Tabb, $22.95, Triumph Books, 206 pages.
Find it at this link.
Summary: The Marine phrase “adapt and overcome” didn’t hit Josh Bleill until he was in Miami, an invited guest to watch his Indianapolis Colts play in Super Bowl XLI. Having lost both legs on combat patrol in Iraq in 2006, he wasn’t sure how to move his life forward. Amidst the nightmares and flashbacks, a dream came true: The Colts hired him as a community spokesman. “It wasn’t some pity job,” Bleill writes. “They haven’t gone easy on me. … The Colts brought me in and taught me how to use my full potential.” His goal: Have every NFL team partner with a wounded vet to make a difference in the community. “No Marine wants people to fell sorry for them. I wanted to work with a purpose, to accomplish something far greater than can be measured in dollars and cents.”

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== “Baseball: An Illustrated History (With the Tenth Inning)”
By Geoffery Ward and Ken Burns, $39.95, Alfred Knopf Publishing, 563 pages.
Find it at this link.
Summary: “What can baseball tell us about who we are as a people?” is the rehashed question by Ward in his re-intro updating the companion book to the PBS “Baseball” 1994 documentary series. Slap the new “Chapter 10″ in and send it back out. Again, the errors are frustrating. One of the 590 pictures is splashed across pages 456-457 captioned: “Oakland pitcher Dennis Eckersley, left, watches his slider disappear into the bleachers of Dodger Stadium as the injured Kirk Gibson begins his painful trot around the bases.” Guess again. Gibson is hobbling toward first, but with A’s first baseman Mark McGwire in his way. Eckersley, with his back to the camera, is coming over to cover the bag. This has to be before the moment, when he dribbled a foul ball and tried to leg it out. Way too obvious?

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== “Bad Asses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders”
By Peter Richmond, $25.99, Harper Collins, 353 pages
Find it at this link.
Summary: Summary: Richmond’s caveat is that “the passage of time has a way of producing permutations” in men’s memories, and “while ‘Badass’ intends to be a definitive history, it is also an oral history of a long-gone time, and it’s hoped readers will approach this work with the full knowledge that history, as retold by several voices, is an elastic thing.” True enough, consumption of this book is as tasty as rubber chicken. Richmond’s exhumation of the “beloved” bunch of “violent rebels … castoffs, psychos, oddballs and geniuses” known as Stabler, Biletnikoff, Atkinson, Villapiano and Hendricks from Oakland’s 1970s is often left to him pulling out info from previously written books by and about them. New info is sparse, and living players and coaches don’t seem to want to relive it. This story seems to be lost in a black hole.

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== “The Little Book of Indoor Golf Games: 18 Sure-fire Ways to Improve Your Game at Home or in the Office”
By Adrian Winter, $10.99, Sourcebooks.com, 82 pages.
Find it at this link.
Summary: Putting is 40 percent of golf, and 100 percent boring. So Winter makes a game of it – more than miniature golf, but practical stuff that aims to improve your aim on the green. The key is setting targets that are 4 inches wide – the diameter of the hole. A putter, a ball, and some tees, plus a string, a deck of cards and patience. The exercises are simple and can be altered to be more of a challenge. Some look more like tennis, croquet, soccer or bowling — the trick is to make the mind think they’re interesting instead of tedious. We like the old standby: Put a dollar bill on the floor, stand eight feet away, and try to putt the ball so it rests on the bill. Now, replace it with a postage stamp. Remember those?

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== “Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978″
By Hugh Holland, edited by Steve Crist, $39.95, Ammo Books, 84 pages.
Find it at this link.
Summary: X-Gamers can see what hardcore skateboarding was like some 30 years ago, beyond the Dogtown and Z-Boys fantasy. Holland’s photographic journal of these sidewalk surfers in almost larger-than-life presentation (the book is the size of a small billboard) captures the bronze-and-gold images that stay real. A great Q-and-A with Holland, with Crist, tells about how he started finding skateboarders zipping around in abandoned swimming polls in Laurel Canyon, and there’s that “certain golden glow you get from the haze and the smog in the afternoon light (in L.A.), and (it) hits the figures balancing on the edge of a bowl, with the light reflecting back from the concrete below.” Like pages 18-19, with Scott and Kent Senatore in a San Fernando Valley school yard in 1976. Stacy Peralta and more are frozen in time, in Redondo, Carlsbad, Reseda, Coldwater Canyon, Santa Monica. Intense and beautiful.

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== “The Gipper: George Gipp, Knute Rockne, and the Dramatic Rise of Notre Dame Football”
By Jack Cavanaugh, $24.95, Skyhorse Publishing, 294 pages
Find it at this link.
Summary: Not so much a gripping tale of how George Gipp came to Notre Dame as an unknown in the fall of 1916, and four years later was one of the best-known athletes in the country. OK, so maybe we’ve got a Ronald Regan movie character etched too deep in our mind for the facts to supercede the legend. Gipp, the first All-American player in Notre Dame history, died at 25 years, 10 months on Dec. 14, 1920, and this is as much an attempt to document his athletic abilities (he excelled in baseball and billiards, too) as it is his relationship with Knute Rockne and the program. Truth is, most of the Gipp and Rockne myths have some legitimacy, and here’s a chance for real Irish fans to wake up some retro history.

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== “Raising Stanley: What It Takes to Claim Hockey’s Ultimate Prize”
By Ross Bernstein, $22.95, Triumph, 368 pages
Find it at this link
Summary: Someday, stories from Kings players may be in the updated version. For now, fans of the team must read about the joys others have had with the Cup — yes, it’s superstition that you can’t touch it until you’ve won it. “One thing you don’t want to do is disrespect the Cup, otherwise the hockey gods may punish you,” Bernstein writes. Former Kings coach Barry Melrose, referencing his trip to the ’93 Finals and the loss to Montreal, writes: “I have never touched the Cup and that is something I will just have to live with. (In ’93) I never got the job done. I didn’t earn it. .. To be honest, I don’t even like to be near the Cup. I just feel as though I don’t deserve to be that close to it. … I’ve had my chances.”

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== “Da Bears: How the 1985 Monsters of the Midway Became the Greatest Team in NFL History”
By Steve Delsohn, $24.99, Crown, 260 pages
Find it at this link
Summary: Memories of the Monsters of the Midway fade as the years go by – they won three playoff games by a combined 91-10 — so capturing the 25-year mark of the Ditka-McMahon-Singletary-Payton-Refrigerator Perry-46 Defense team by those still around makes sense and adds new perspective. Our local guys like Tim Wrightman, the UCLA star who joined the team after three years in the USFL, even chime in. Better, Delsohn investigates: Why didn’t this team win more than just once? Former USC star Keith Van Horne: “I remember coming into a team meeting and Ditka’s yelling at us, ‘You forgot what it takes to win’ … Then I went home and on channel 2, 5 and 7, Ditka had three different commercials, not for the same product. I think that sorta encapsulates what happened to that team.” Answers Ditka: “That’s all bullshit.”

More holiday book ideas:

== Endless winter: The top 10 surfing books of the last half year (linked here)

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