Top critical review
Godel, Escher, Bach meets Jonathan Livingston Seagull
on October 3, 2002
I don't know when I've read a more unfortunately flawed book -- unfortunately, because while there are snippets of truly inspired writing in it, they are overwhelmed by too many examples of what Strunk and White have told us all not to do. The author, evidently a successful journalist, seems to lose all sense of restraint in the book-length format: pithiness is absent as points are belabored to death; metaphors are piled three- and four-deep until all sense of the original subject is lost; and a sense of appropriate diction is tossed out the window in favor of florid, show-off vocabulary that causes the reader to wince in sympathetic embarrassment. Perhaps most telling, the author never seems to find an authentic voice. Compelling books on sports have been written from the perspective of both the insider and the outsider; Lambert seems to try for both, and is convincing as neither. He drops the names of rowing greats he has shared the river with, yet never seems to find his own place as a rower, the level at which he can simply put his head down and work at it without concern for what others are doing. Constantly fretting at his own inadequacies and questioning whether he has any right to consider himself a "real athlete", he articulates a series of vague goals that are best summed up as a desire not to be last -- or at least, not last by too much. The result, for the reader, is to end up wondering why Lambert is in this endeavor -- rowing or writing -- and if the author himself doesn't seem to know, why should the reader care?