Sports Illustrated: Fifty Years of Great Writing: 50th Anniversary 1954-2004 Hardcover – Oct 1 2003
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For their 50th anniversary, Sports Illustrated collects 52 of their best and most memorable articles. Editor Rob Fleder delivers on what makes the magazine standout and fashionable: a mix of on-sport reporting (Mark Kram's lyrical coverage of the third Ali-Frazier bout) and polished articles written with years of perspective (Dan Jenkins's examination of the 1960 US Open, 18 years after the golf tournament). SI's most well-know scribe, Frank Deford, bookends the collection with reflections on boxer Billy Conn and a lovely obit on hometown star Johnny Untias. There is a sweet array of noted authors including John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Pete Dexter, Don DeLillo, and Garrison Keillor. Profiles are the bulk of the book, but like the magazine, we take off-beat trails: a rattlesnake derby, articles on broadcasters, and Wallace Stegner's sobering "We Are Destroying Our National Parks" (written in 1955!). Since there has been other SI collections over the years (Yesterday in Sport one of note), fresher articles are more abundant (eight articles from the 21st Century). As with any survey book, one can be picky about the exclusions: no Olympic coverage; the only article on cars deals with the Autobahn; hockey is only represented through an ex-player's murder case. The biggest caveat is a book without pictures from a magazine famous for them. Certainly a single shot of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile or one of the blurry photos that originally accompanied George Plimpton's ultimate April Fools' Day joke (pitching sensation Sidd Finch) would evoke the memory of those who read the articles upon their release. --Doug Thomas
*Starred Review* Sports Illustrated set out to raise the bar for sports writing when it debuted in 1954. Longtime editor Andre Laguerre, who stepped down in 1976, pushed his writers to take their work beyond the cliches, statistics, and humdrum details of the daily sports pages. He also looked beyond his staff for the best writer for a subject. Among those who contributed to the magazine are Robert Frost, John F. Kennedy, William Faulkner, and A. J. Liebling. The selections included here run the gamut from the silly to the profound, but each in its way exemplifies the lofty ambitions to which the magazine aspires. Among the highlights are William Nack' s examination of former boxing champion Sonny Liston, 20 years after his death; an ode to Ted Williams by Leigh Montville; and Jeff MacGregor's account of an Oklahoma rattlesnake roundup, which will have readers' skin crawling even as they wipe tears of laughter from their eyes. One might quibble over a favorite piece that's been left out, but there's no argument that each selection included is a shimmering example of the best of sports journalism. Wes Lukowsky
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=== The Good Stuff ===
* There is a nice variety of stories, and some from just about every sport. Many famous athletes are profiled, including Johnny Unitas, Andre Agassi, Larry Bird- and some not so famous ones as well such as the Negro League's Josh Gibson and several Kenyan distance runners.
* Most of the stories are poignant and capture the raw emotions of people involved. As a rough characterization, many of the stories tend toward the sadder side of things, and more towards the "people" than the "hard sports" reporting. There are, of course, exceptions.
* A couple of the stories are just, in my opinion, knock-it-out-of-the-park Pulitzer Prize caliber. They are first rate narratives, and are among some of the best prose ever written in any genre.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* The title of the magazine is Sports Illustrated, but this collection, at least on the Kindle, has no graphics or photography.
* It has taken me more years than I care to admit to in order to learn that you don't have to read every story in an anthology. There are some sports that do not interest me. Some of the writer's styles, especially the older stories, are just not what I like to read, and a few of the tales just drag on far too long. So I just skip them, and it makes the book a much more enjoyable experience. I would estimate I probably skipped over about 5% of the total.
* I would change the organization of the book. Near the end is the story of Jill Costello, a crew coxswain from Berkeley. This is just one of the saddest and most emotionally draining stories I have ever read. The problem-there were a couple stories after that, all of which seemed anticlimactic. This should have been the end of the book.
=== Summary ===
I enjoyed the book. It took a while to read- it is a bit on the lengthy side. Most of the stories were excellent, although I skipped a few that just did not appeal to me. I'd recommend it to serious sports fans who are interested in the athletes, but most statistics junkies would probably be happier skipping it. Many of the stories would even appeal to more general interest readers, serving as short biographies or human interest stories.