Review: RAPTURE by Nick Nurse & Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown)

NurseN-RaptureNick Nurse’s long journey to the NBA and how his experiences led to the Raptors’ Championship

Nick Nurse distills the wisdom, insight, and experiences that helped him lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in his first year as head coach.

NBA fans had modest  expectations for rookie coach Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors. But what those naysayers didn’t realize was that Nurse had spent the past thirty years proving himself at every level of the game, from youth programs and college ball to the NBA D League and Britain’s struggling pro circuit. While few coaches have taken such a circuitous path to pro basketball’s promised land, the journey-which began at Kuemper Catholic high school in Carroll, Iowa-forged a coach who proved to be as unshakable as he is personable.

On the road, he is known to bring his guitar and keyboard for late-night jazz and blues sessions. In the locker room, he’s steadfast and even-keeled regardless of the score. On the court, he pulls out old-school tactics with astounding success. A rookie in name but a veteran in attitude, Nurse is seemingly above the chaos of the game and, with only two seasons on his résumé, has already established himself as one of the NBA’s most admired head coaches.

Now, in this revealing new book — equal parts personal memoir, leadership mani­festo, and philosophical meditation — Nurse tells his own story. Given unprecedented access inside the Raptors’ locker room, readers get an intimate study of not only the team culture he has built, but also of a rookie coach’s unique dynamic with the star players — such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Low­ry, and Pascal Siakam — who helped trail-blaze the 2019 championship run. As much for readers of Ray Dalio as for fans of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, Rapture promis­es to be a necessary read for anyone looking to forge their own path to success.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced (which was, I think, shortly after the Raptors’ NBA victory last summer). I started reading this a couple of days after it came out, and zipped through it. Written in an inviting and engaging style, Rapture is a quick and interesting read. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace (Blue Rider Press)

IguodalaA-SixthManUSPBA superb memoir that is also a passionate, engaging meditation on race in America

Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.

Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too — for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.

The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.

On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.

I’ve been on a bit of a basketball kick, recently. The NBA’s restart in Orlando has been playing in the background since it began (except for Raptors games, which I give the games my full attention). I decided that it was time to read The Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala’s acclaimed memoir. Co-authored by journalist Carvell Wallace, I had pretty high expectations. The book completely blew these expectations out of the water, and I blitzed through it. A superb book about basketball, life and race in America. Continue reading

Quick Review: TO START A WAR by Robert Draper (Penguin Press)

DraperR-ToStartAWarUSAn interesting, well-written, and extensive investigation into what the US went to war with Iraq

Even now, after more than fifteen years, it is hard to see the invasion of Iraq through the cool, considered gaze of history. For too many people, the damage is still too palpable, and still unfolding. Most of the major players in that decision are still with us, and few of them are not haunted by it, in one way or another. Perhaps it’s that combination, the passage of the years and the still unresolved trauma, that explains why so many protagonists opened up so fully for the first time to Robert Draper.

Draper’s prodigious reporting has yielded scores of consequential new revelations, from the important to the merely absurd. As a whole, the book paints a vivid and indelible picture of a decision-making process that was fatally compromised by a combination of post-9/11 fear and paranoia, rank naïveté, craven groupthink, and a set of actors with idées fixes who gamed the process relentlessly. Everything was believed; nothing was true. The intelligence failure was comprehensive. Draper’s fair-mindedness and deep understanding of the principal actors suffuse his account, as does a storytelling genius that is close to sorcery. There are no cheap shots here, which makes the ultimate conclusion all the more damning.

In the spirit of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and Marc Bloch’s Strange Defeat, To Start A War will stand as the definitive account of a collective process that arrived at evidence that would prove to be not just dubious but entirely false, driven by imagination rather than a quest for truth — evidence that was then used to justify a verdict that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and a flood tide of chaos in the Middle East that shows no signs of ebbing.

“Why did Bush et al shift their focus from Afghanistan and al Qaeda to Saddam and Iraq?” This is a question that many have been trying to answer, with varying degrees of success ever since the shift happened. In his latest book, Draper presents an account of how the United States ended up in Iraq. It’s an interesting, wide-ranging investigation. Continue reading

Quick Review: BUT WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT by Ken Kwapis (St. Martin’s Griffin)

KwapisK-ButWhatIReallyWantToDoIsDirectUSAn interesting blend of memoir and advice for budding directors

For over three decades, director Ken Kwapis has charted a career full of exceptional movies and television, from seminal shows like The Office to beloved films like He’s Just Not That Into You.

He is among the most respected directors in show business, but getting there wasn’t easy. He struggled just like everyone else. With each triumph came the occasional faceplant. Using his background and inside knowledge, But What I Really Want To Do is Direct tackles Hollywood myths through Ken’s highly entertaining experiences. It’s a rollercoaster ride fueled by brawls with the top brass, clashes over budgets, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

This humorous and refreshingly personal memoir is filled with inspiring instruction, behind-the-scenes hilarity, and unabashed joy. It’s a celebration of the director’s craft, and what it takes to succeed in show business on your own terms.

In But What I Really Want to Do is Direct, Ken Kwapis draws on decades of experience as a director of television and movies, sharing what he’s learned behind the camera and also some interesting and often amusing experiences and stories. Continue reading

Quick Review: GOLDEN by Marcus Thompson (Atria)

ThompsonM-GoldenStephCurryAn interesting biography of an unexpected basketball talent

The inside story of Steph Curry, the greatest shooter basketball has ever seen.

Golden is the first book to provide an all-access look at Steph Curry and the team that has fueled Dub Nation — by longtime Warriors beat reporter and Bay Area News Group sports columnist Marcus Thompson, the go-to expert on all things Golden State.

A lifelong Warriors fan turned insider Thompson is uniquely qualified to tell the definitive story of a singular talent, pulling back the curtain on the crazy work ethic and on-court intensity that make Curry great — and the emphasis on family and faith that keeps him grounded.

Combining the competitive grit and fun-loving spirit of his mother with the mild demeanor, easy charm, and sharp shooting of his father, former NBA player Dell Curry, Steph Curry derives support and strength from his close-knit kin and his commitment to Christianity. This hard-working, wholesome image however is both a blessing and curse in a League of big personalities. Thompson unravels the complicated underpinnings of the Steph Curry hate with a nuanced analysis of how class and complexion come into play when a child with an NBA pedigree becomes the face of a sport traditionally honed on inner-city black top and dominated by the less privileged.

With unprecedented access, Thompson draws from exclusive interviews with Steph Curry, his family, his teammates, Coach Steve Kerr, and the Warriors owners to bring readers inside the locker room and courtside with this remarkable athlete and man.

With the NBA season back and in full swing, I found myself in the mood to read about some of the various basketball books I’ve picked up over the years. Steph Curry and the Warriors were a juggernaut in recent years, which naturally led to the publication of a few books about the team and its stars. Originally published in 2017, I decided it was well-passed time for me to read Golden. It’s an interesting book, let down only by its subject.
Continue reading

Quick Review: INTIMATIONS by Zadie Smith (Penguin)

SmithZ-IntimationsA superb collection of short essays

Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lock down, by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time

“There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those — the year isn’t half-way done. What I’ve tried to do is organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity.”

Crafted with the sharp intelligence, wit, and style that have won Zadie Smith millions of fans, and suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these unprecedented times, Intimations is a vital work of art, a gesture of connection, and an act of love — an essential book in extraordinary times.

Intimations, Zadie Smith’s new non-fiction collection, includes six fantastic essays that are observant, generous, sometimes wry, passionate, and always engaging. While some of them look at life as the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold, it is not a book specifically about the pandemic. It is an engaging read throughout. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: THE PEOPLE, NO by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan Books)

FrankT-ThePeopleNoThe interesting, if flawed history of American populism and its corruption by the elite

Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake.

The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party — the biggest mass movement in American history — fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.

Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.

I’ve been a fan of Thomas Frank’s writing for some time, now. His books have offered plenty of interesting and incisive examinations and critiques of American politics, culture, and economics. In The People, No, he turns his attention to “populism”: a term that has become quite ubiquitous in the age of Trump, but it is a term that is widely misunderstood. Frank provides a history of this movement, and explains how it has been twisted for nefarious ends. Continue reading

Review: THE VICTORY MACHINE by Ethan Sherwood Strauss (Public Affairs)

StraussES-VictoryMachineAn interesting look at the rise and fall of the Golden State Warriors

How money, guts, and greed built the Warriors dynasty — and then took it apart

The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA for the better part of a decade. Since the arrival of owner Joe Lacob, they won more championships and sold more merchandise than any other franchise in the sport. And in 2019, they opened the doors on a lavish new stadium.

Yet all this success contained some of the seeds of decline. Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s clear-eyed exposé reveals the team’s culture, its financial ambitions and struggles, and the price that its players and managers have paid for all their winning. From Lacob’s unlikely acquisition of the team to Kevin Durant’s controversial departure, Strauss shows how the smallest moments can define success or failure for years.

And, looking ahead, Strauss ponders whether this organization can rebuild after its abrupt fall from the top, and how a relentless business wears down its players and executives. The Victory Machine is a defining book on the modern NBA: it not only rewrites the story of the Warriors, but shows how the Darwinian business of pro basketball really works.

An interesting account of the rise of the Golden State Warriors, and the behind-the-scenes drama and tension surrounding Kevin Durant’s tenure as part of the team. A little bit gossipy, well-observed, and engaging, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: MODERN FAMILY by Marc Freeman (St. Martin’s Press)

FreemanM-ModernFamilyUSThe Untold Oral History of the Long-Running Family Sitcom

An oral history, with the full participation of cast and crew, of one of the most popular sitcoms in television history.

Since premiering in 2009, the groundbreaking television sitcom Modern Family has garnered tens of millions of devoted fans, earning 75 Emmy nominations and 22 Emmy Awards, including five in a row for Outstanding Comedy Series (one of only two sitcoms to ever achieve that feat). Professors have written about it. Psychologists have lectured on it. Leading publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have explained their love for it. With funny, heartfelt and relatable stories about family, Modern Family has gained a worldwide following of hundreds of millions of viewers in countries as diverse as England, Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, and South Africa.

As much as people love the show, few know the stories behind it. How did a kernel of an idea by Emmy-winning writers Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd morph into a television juggernaut? Where did they find the cast? How did they come up with story ideas and film favorite episodes? What went on behind the scenes? Up until now, there have been individual stories and interviews about the show, but nothing comprehensive that captures the complete story of the series.

Marc Freeman’s Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television’s Groundbreaking Sitcoms is the only major book ever written that explores this show as told by those who created it. More than seventy people, including the entire cast, crew, and creators, detail the full history of this iconic sitcom. The cast recalls their memories of the trials and tribulations of casting. They share their impressions from the first table read through the last light turning out. Writers, directors, and performers walk readers through storylines, production and favorite episodes. Guest stars such as Elizabeth Banks, Josh Gad, Adam Devine, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane recall their appearances on the show while others recount their experiences working with Kevin Hart, Barbara Streisand, Ed Norton and more. Readers get to go behind the scenes and experience the show like never before, including personal photos. They’ll also discover the never-told fallout and divorce of the two showrunners, making the show two separate series blended into one. Even people unfamiliar with the show will gain deep insight into what it takes to put a series on television.

I started watching Modern Family around season three, I think — I caught an episode when I was visiting my father in LA. It was funny, and I started watching it whenever I could. Like all long-running shows, it experiences ups and downs, but it held strong for a surprisingly long time. With the show recently ended, I thought this Oral History would be an interesting read. I was not disappointed: exhaustive, engaging and illuminating, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE BRITISH PEOPLE DURING THE EMERGENCY by Jason Hazeley & Nico Tatarowicz (Quercus)

HazeleyTatarowicz-InstructionsForBritishPeopleDuringEmergencyUKA very amusing handbook for these interesting times

An indispensable handbook to see the nation through lockdown, breakdown and meltdown.

As Britain enters a period of tremendous upheaval, your government has requested that everyone immediately undertake a series of life-style changes that may test the nation’s resolve.

Most of it is simple common-sense, but common-sense may be new to you, especially if you are young, wistful or an imbecile.

Indeed, it should be noted that much of what is to come in the weeks and months (and months) ahead will be new to us all. But let us remember that, not so long ago, the same was true of pesto.

We must not lose heart. With stoicism, courage and a substantial supply of alcoholic fortification, we will pull through this together and emerge from it a stronger (or weaker but more experienced) nation.

Sir Clement Apricot-Wilson,
Permanent Secretary
The Department of Unforeseen Circumstances

I was pre-approved for this on NetGalley, and decided to give it a try on a bit on a whim. I’m very glad that I did, because this is at times very funny. As it turned out, this book is just the antidote for these strange and difficult times I was looking for. Very enjoyable. Continue reading