Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life Hardcover – Jun 16 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprah and The Tonight Show, shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort. At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.)
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“The grace and dignity that James has shown during some very difficult times has been a source of great inspiration.” (Andre Agassi)
“Blake is a championin every sense of the word.” (Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue)
“I’ve known James since early childhood...James’s rise to international success is as stunning as it was predictable.” (John Mayer)
“Through Blake’s commitment and passion, he tells the story of the life lessons he learned while facing difficult personal challenges.” (Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe)
“[James Blake] has inspired young people everywhere with his story of courage and determination.” (former president George H.W. Bush)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So often in life, good things bloom from the seeds of hardship. Breaking Back by James Blake is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story about how life's trials shaped the character of a remarkable young man. The wisdom of Thomas Blake and his son James' self-reflection reminded me of the relationship the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had with his father Joshua. The wisdom and friendship of Blake's philosopher-coach Brian Barker reminded me of the relationship John Wooden had with his players. The dedicated, supporting and steady presence of James' mother Betty Blake is a subtle theme throughout the book. I also loved Blake's affection for his friends and how they rallied around him in his time of need. When my wife had cancer, we experienced first hand how much the support of family and friends can help you make it through difficult seasons in life. I attribute my wife's recovery in part to the support we received just as James credits his friends and family for helping him through the difficult times he has faced.
Another Amazon reviewer of Breaking Back argues that Blake's philosophy of focusing on continuous improvement and achieving his personal best will prevent him from being a great tennis player. I disagree with that view. Blake's philosophy is the same as John Wooden's whose basketball hall of fame biography states that with ten national championships and four perfect seasons Wooden "achieved a record that no coach in any sport may ever surpass." Wooden achieved that record with a relentless pursuit of becoming his personal best while being a good human being. Wooden told his players that in his eyes a winner is someone who achieves the satisfaction of knowing they always gave their personal best effort. As Wooden said "you can win and not be a winner and you can be a winner and not win." In the eyes of those who value the content of character above fame a fortune, James Blake is a winner in every sense of the word. He's a role model whose story more young people need to hear.
I'll be reading this book to my two teenage daughters and giving copies to some of their friends. It will sit in my library alongside the inspiring stories about people who developed strength of character such as Mornings on Horseback about Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln's Virtues about Abraham Lincoln, and My Personal Best about John Wooden. For those who are interested in stories about people like James Blake with strength of character and how they inspire the people around them, you might enjoy our just-released book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team's Passion, Creativity, and Productivity
Generally, when I read books of this kind, I cannot help feeling that the athlete is sharing only what the public expects, holding back facts that they may consider a little embarrassing. We usually see somebody struggling, but that also has a kind of bravado to face the situation. This could not be further from the truth in this case though. I felt that James is not holding anything back and is spilling his guts trying to get us to understand every detail of his struggle. Andrew Friedman definitely helps, displaying a proficient writing style and not letting the book get boring at any point.
Besides containing a fair amount of personal aspects related to the fight against adversity and the importance of friendship, this book has some very interesting insights into the mind of a tennis player. Blake shares with us the process by which he became a professional tennis player, but also what goes through the mind of a pro during a match and at the end of the year when it is time to take stock. There are many snippets of information about players on the tour and these keep us engaged and at times help lighten up the mood.
Blake is the kind of pro that plays from the heart, and you can see that passion in his storytelling too. It is no surprise that his mentor and idol is Andre Agassi, who also displays similar traits in the court. Or that Blake is amazed by the talent of Fernando Gonzalez, who plays without a safety net and goes all out in every point, looking for impossible winners. James Blake lives like this, fighting adversity and going for the break right after his serve has been broken, and he has proven he knows how to do this. Granted, he got some help along the way.
This is a story that can be appreciated by anyone. It does not matter whether you are a tennis player or not. In this regard, the author included a glossary of tennis terms to help the novice, and allow them full enjoyment. I hope that if you read this book you will love it as much as I did, and I wish James every success in his future tournaments. So far 2007 has been a pretty good year for him!
As James says, a tennis match is not unlike life, itself. It's packed with victories and losses and all the drama that accompanies it. For James, a serious neck injury, the death of his father and being diagnosed with zoster (or "shingles") all in one year would drive anyone underground for a time. On top of all of that, James reveals he was born with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and had to wear a back brace for years. James is lucky, though, to come from a close, loving family, have a coach, Brian Barker, (who is as much a mentor as anything else) and have dozens of friends who support him in his darkest hours. They form the basis of J-Block, the chief rooting section for James. Shining above anything or anyone else, though, is his dad. Thomas's fatherly advice is well-taken by the young tennis pro and it serves him well as he struggles with his own illnesses and some of the psychological barriers that hold him back on the court. He refers to his Dad as "Superman" and the elder Blake's death from cancer is the harshest blow for James.
This book plumbs the depths of an inner life filled with joy and sorrow but the great news is the rebirth of James Blake. And the ways he comes roaring back onto the court and takes control again over his own life make this book a fascinating look at one of the outstanding tennis players of our day and one of an inspirational young man who happens to play it. James's creed is "get better" and he does step by step and day by day. He is truly the comeback kid. I highly recommend "Breaking Back" for its honesty and courage.
What a story...What a man. The praise from reviewers in main stream publications has been tremendous. Here is the true story (without media hype) of how a man can regain his health, his mind set and his goals through hard work and determination and as he says the tremendous support from family and friends. It is an inspiration to anyone who has been down and how they can get back after so many knocks and a great read.
We all read from press reports of what he was going though, but the insight that we have now been given through his own recounting of that time is somehting that we have been privilaged to live through in his own words.
DONT MISS OUT ON THIS BOOK...It is a must read and I am sure it will continue to move up the New York Times bestseller list