Sports Illustrated: Hockey's Greatest edited by Bill Syken, Time Inc., 257 pages, $32.95
There is something unique about hockey photography compared to other sports. The combination of vivid uniform colors, arena lights bouncing off the ice and the sheer physicality of the game often produces stunning photos.
Sports Illustrated's new coffee-table-style book has various categories ranking the game's greatest players, coaches, moments and more, but the biggest winners are SI's photographers. The vintage shots are perhaps the best, capturing an era when the game was raw — free of helmets, goalie facemasks and, by extension for some players, teeth.
Early in the book, there is a riveting two-page photo spread of the Blackhawks' Bobby Hull bearing down on two Detroit Red Wings players in the old Chicago Stadium. The silvery tone of the ice almost looks surreal. Blackhawks fans will agree with the SI panel in ranking Hull as the best left-winger of all time. There is an excerpt from a 1966 Sports Illustrated story that called Hull "the perfect muscular mesomorph."
Hull is among the many great Blackhawks players featured in the book, with one notable exception. Tony Esposito was not listed among the top 10 goalies; The Hawks' Glenn Hall was seventh. Let the arguments begin. Of course, that's the point of the exercise. The book also features several original stories and excerpts from SI's acclaimed hockey writers on the game's greatest players. Ultimately, though, it is the pictures that are truly hockey's greatest in this book.
This Is Your Brain on Sports by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers, Crown Archetype, 288 pages, $26
The first chapter shows why this isn't a typical sports book. It is titled, "Why the T-Shirt Cannon Has Something to Teach Us About Human Nature." The authors detail why fans who spend hundreds of dollars to attend games go crazy in pursuit of cheap T-shirts fired at the crowd. Good question.
Wertheim, executive editor at Sports Illustrated, and Sommers, a Tufts University psychologist, examine various issues in an attempt to get to the roots of the psychology of sports. They delve into why the best players often make the worst coaches; why top athletes and teams often claim they don't get the proper respect; why a quarterback's looks could be a predictor of success, among other topics.
There is an interesting chapter on how the biggest stars often summon their best performances while dealing with grief and adversity. And this chapter definitely will hit close to home in Chicago: Why fans of teams like the Cubs love rooting for a loser? The authors write: "The last time the Cubs won the World Series, construction on the Titanic had yet to commence. The team's fans haven't simply taken solace in a century-plus of losing; the ritual losing is an essential part of the experience."
The book offers a different and entertaining perspective in looking at the many facets of sports. In some cases, it even might change the way fans view their favorite athletes and teams.
Life Is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Redemption by Jay Williams, HarperCollins, 257 pages, $26.99
If fate had played out differently, Jay Williams still might be playing with the Bulls, closing out a career that made him one of the most popular athletes in Chicago history. However, the photo of Williams on the cover of his new book, revealing nightmarish scars on his leg, shows why that didn't happen.
In a memoir, Williams, selected by the Bulls with the second pick in the 2002 NBA draft, saw a promising career cut short by a horrific motorcycle accident in 2003. Everything Williams hoped for as a basketball player was gone. He writes about his struggle to cope with the abrupt end, his addiction to pain medication and how he contemplated suicide. He details how he came to grips with what happened and eventually was able to resume a career in basketball, this time as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
Prior to the accident, Williams had a notable run as a player, leading Duke to the 2001 NCAA title. He has several interesting revelations about his relationship with famed coach Mike Krzyzewski and some salacious tales of his one year in the NBA. But ultimately, this is Williams' story of redemption for a life that didn't go as planned.