Christopher McDougall’s fast-paced look at running, Born To Run (Knopf, $24.95), is part adventure, part anthropology, and part physiology; it’s stuffed with amazing characters, incredible feats, and wow moments. Wondering why he couldn’t run without getting hurt, McDougall investigated the superhumans who run ultramarathons of 50 and 100 miles through blazing deserts, up mountains, and against horses. Some of these extreme athletes party as hard as they run; not discipline but spirit is their secret. This is also the key to the elusive Tarahumara, a cave-dwelling people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Natural ultramarathoners, these Indians run as a way of life. Despite traversing rocky, cactus-ridden terrain in thin-soled sandals, the Tarahumara are seldom injured, and McDougall’s research concludes that today’s high-tech running shoes cause rather than prevent injuries by not letting the foot work the way it was designed to. If you’re a runner, this book will have you craving more than the occasional 10K. If you’re not a runner, you’ll want to see what you’re missing.
Currently Lebron James is a globally recognized athlete, pitch-man, and entrepreneur. In Shooting Stars (Penguin Press, $26.95) reporter Buzz Bissinger helps tell James’s back story, where nothing of his future but basketball seemed assured. Growing up in a poor and unstable home, James ricocheted around Akron, Ohio, until he found twin anchors in basketball and in the teammates who became his surrogate family. Romeo, Willie, Sian, Little Dru, and Lebron chose loyalty above all else, enrolling together at small Saint Vincent’s, known more for academics than athletics, and taking the school to three state championships. The book gives vivid descriptions and play-by-plays of important games, with insight provided by recollections from James and others. But most memorable here is the appreciation of James’s maturation over a brief and tumultuous period, during which he was an object of suspicion, admiration, jealousy, adulation, expectation, and greed, all while trying to find himself as an emerging adult and public figure. Lebron James is lauded as a fantastic teammate, and in this book that unique quality is shown even more off the court than on it.
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was both a victim of and a contributor to his own myth. Larry Tye’s Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (Random House, $26) describes a man with an elastic, duplicitous, and mesmerizing right arm—and a mind to match it. According to Paige, his nickname came from his carrying multiple bags for white travelers at the train station, but according to an acquaintance it originated in Paige’s trying to steal those same bags. His date of birth, career records, marital status, and personal recollections were all subject to debate and dispute. What is not disputable is Paige’s sheer athletic ability and ingenuity, proved on every mound he stood upon. He was a dominant pitcher and an unsurpassed showman, and his legend grew through the Negro Leagues, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, barn-storming tours against white Major Leaguers, and finally the Major Leagues themselves as its first black pitcher and the oldest rookie in their history. Satchel seemed to enjoy fooling the media and the historians as much as he did the batters he faced.