April 2010 Bookshelf

A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton (1965) by John McPhee

If you haven’t ever read John McPhee, you should, he’s practically an American national treasure.  The Steinbeck of non-fiction, McPhee is short, to the point, technically poetic and one of the greatest observers of all time.  His Levels of the Game (1979) is, quite simply, the best book about professional tennis ever written (at only 150 pages!).  Other gems include meditations on New Jersey’s Pine Barrens region and the citrus industryA Sense of Where You Are follows former New Jersey Senator and Presidential candidate Bill Bradley around during his senior year at Princeton.  At face value, that probably makes the book sound like a snooze-fest of the highest order…the problem is, at the time, Bill Bradley was the most feared college basketball player in the country.  And armed with that knowledge and McPhee’s gift for narration, The Cupcake recommends this for anyone who even passively likes basketball and/or politics.

With unlimited access to his subject, McPhee successfully paints Bradley in a way that crystallizes everything about the future politico that made him so appealing during his 18 years in the U.S. Senate and during his failed run in 2000; his tenacity, dedication, willingness to put in the time it takes to succeed and, most importantly, the man’s selflessness and devotion to team.  Time and time again, Bradley is the one staying late at practice, passing instead of taking the open shot and encouraging his teammates to overachieve.  Adding to this wonderfully descriptive account is the actual basketball coverage – it is so acute and perceptive, you feel like you’re in the games he’s describing.

In all, Bradley won a gold medal, two NBA Championships and fell one victory short of an NCAA crown; this moment-captured-in-time biography does a masterful job of providing the reader with a sense of what it must have been like to be right there courtside for a sliver of this outstanding resume.

The Smoking Cupcake, April 2010

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