A smartly informative book that should inspire readers to try a new game.



It’s often man vs. machine in this beguiling foray into games and why we play them.

New York City–based journalist Roeder, a former senior writer for FiveThirtyEight, traverses the globe and centuries in his lively quest to understand the appeal of a handful of sophisticated games that “offer simplified models of a dauntingly complicated world, with dynamics that we can grasp and master”—checkers, chess, Go, backgammon, poker, Scrabble, and bridge. An entertaining storyteller, the author provides numerous profiles of those who were especially proficient at these games as he explores the appeal, strategies, and intricacies of each—beginning with checkers, “whose reputation as a child’s game belies its haunting depth.” Over 40 years and more than 1,000 competitive matches, Marion Tinsley, “the Ernest Shackleton of the game,” only lost three games. In 1963, blind Robert Nealey was the first to compete against an early computer, never losing. The “program itself was an achievement and a watershed,” proving computers could learn via artificial intelligence. Chess was a skill every good knight should possess. From chess hustlers in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park to the baffling Mechanical Turk, Alan Turing, chess-playing computer programs, and some of the great chess masters, Roeder describes what makes the game so complex, mesmerizing, and addictive. Go, which originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, is “often touted as the most complex board game played by humans.” Played with simple black and white stones, its rules “are stark and elegant, as if they were discovered rather than invented.” Backgammon, Roeder suggests, balances luck and skill, placing it somewhere between chess and poker, a “game of imperfectinformation,” while bridge “requires memory and wisdom, prudence and risk, and empathy—for both friend and foe.” Poker, meanwhile, is “the world’s most popular card game in our capitalistic age.” And then there’s Scrabble, “turning a heap of letters into a beautiful spider web of words on the board.”

A smartly informative book that should inspire readers to try a new game.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-00377-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Basketball fans will enjoy Pippen’s bird’s-eye view of some of the sport’s greatest contests.


The Chicago Bulls stalwart tells all—and then some.

Hall of Famer Pippen opens with a long complaint: Yes, he’s a legend, but he got short shrift in the ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan and the Bulls, The Last Dance. Given that Jordan emerges as someone not quite friend enough to qualify as a frenemy, even though teammates for many years, the maltreatment is understandable. This book, Pippen allows, is his retort to a man who “was determined to prove to the current generation of fans that he was larger-than-life during his day—and still larger than LeBron James, the player many consider his equal, if not superior.” Coming from a hardscrabble little town in Arkansas and playing for a small college, Pippen enjoyed an unlikely rise to NBA stardom. He played alongside and against some of the greats, of whom he writes appreciatively (even Jordan). Readers will gain insight into the lives of characters such as Dennis Rodman, who “possessed an unbelievable basketball IQ,” and into the behind-the-scenes work that led to the Bulls dynasty, which ended only because, Pippen charges, the team’s management was so inept. Looking back on his early years, Pippen advocates paying college athletes. “Don’t give me any of that holier-than-thou student-athlete nonsense,” he writes. “These young men—and women—are athletes first, not students, and make up the labor that generates fortunes for their schools. They are, for lack of a better term, slaves.” The author also writes evenhandedly of the world outside basketball: “No matter how many championships I have won, and millions I have earned, I never forget the color of my skin and that some people in this world hate me just because of that.” Overall, the memoir is closely observed and uncommonly modest, given Pippen’s many successes, and it moves as swiftly as a playoff game.

Basketball fans will enjoy Pippen’s bird’s-eye view of some of the sport’s greatest contests.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982165-19-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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Red meat, and mighty tasty at that, for baseball fans with an appreciation for the past and power of the game.


Longtime sports journalist Posnanski takes on a project fraught with the possibilities of controversy: ranking the 100 best baseball players of all time.

It would steal the author’s thunder to reveal his No. 1. However, writing about that player, Posnanski notes, “the greatest baseball player is the one who lifts you higher and makes you feel exactly like you did when you fell in love with this crazy game in the first place.” Working backward, his last-but-not-least place is occupied by Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, whose valiant hitting rivaled Pete Rose’s, mostly a base at a time. As for Rose, who comes in at No. 60, Posnanski writes, “here’s something people don’t often say about the young Pete Rose, but it’s true: The guy was breathtakingly fast.” Thus, in his first pro season, Rose stole 30 bases and hit 30 triples. That he was somewhat of a lout is noted but exaggerated. Posnanski skillfully weaves statistics into the narrative without spilling into geekdom, and he searches baseball history for his candidate pool while combing the records for just the right datum or quote: No. 10 Satchel Paige on No. 15 Josh Gibson: “You look for his weakness, and while you’re looking for it he’s liable to hit 45 home runs.” Several themes emerge, one being racial injustice. As Posnanski notes of “the greatest Negro Leagues players....people tend to talk about them as if there is some doubt about their greatness.” There’s not, as No. 94, Roy Campanella, among many others, illustrates. He was Sicilian, yes, but also Black, then reason enough to banish him to the minors until finally calling him up in 1948. Another significant theme is the importance of fathers in shaping players, from Mickey Mantle to Cal Ripken and even Rose. Posnanski’s account of how the Cy Young Award came about is alone worth the price of admission.

Red meat, and mighty tasty at that, for baseball fans with an appreciation for the past and power of the game.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982180-58-4

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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