Archive: July 2005

Book Review: Sport Stretch, 2nd Edition: 311 Stretches for 41 Sports, Michael J. Alter (1997)

Friday, July 29th, 2005

Jam Packed with Stretches for Every Muscle Group

four out of five stars

I’m a former couch potato who started doing Tae Bo and cardio kickboxing almost two years ago. I recently added yoga to my routine for flexibility, and pilates for strength and control, but found that I needed more. In particular, I wanted greater flexibility in my adductor muscles so that I could kick higher and with increased control. I found that I was also having some knee problems. So I checked out every book that my local library had on stretching and flexibility; out of the dozen or so books I looked at, I liked three of them, including “Sport Stretch,” well enough that I purchased my own copies.

“Sport Stretch” begins with a discussion of flexibility, then launches into descriptions of 311 different stretches. Most of these consist of a single illustration with a few bulleted instructions. The stretches themselves are arranged into chapters based on muscle groups, including feet and ankles, lower legs, hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps, hips and gluteals, lower torso, upper back, neck, pectorals, shoulders, and arms and wrists.

Additionally, the author includes an index at the beginning of the book that singles out stretches that are helpful for specific sports. One- to three-page sections are dedicated to each of the following: archery; baseball, softball, and cricket; basketball; bowling; cross-country skiing; cycling and triathlon; dance; diving; figure skating; football; golf; gymnastics; hiking and backpacking; ice hockey; in-line skating; jogging; lacrosse; martial arts; race walking; rowing, kayacking, and canoeing; sailing and windsurfing; skiing; soccer; squash; swimming; table tennis; tennis, racquetball, and handball; track and field; volleyball; water skiing; weight lifting; and wrestling.

As a BEGINNER, I found most of the stretches helpful. There were some standard moves that I was already familiar with from my high school gym classes, as well as some more challenging exercises I learned in yoga. However, a number of the stretches were completely new to me. I’m especially happy with the adductor section, as it’s exactly what I needed to help with my roundhouse kicks! Note the emphasis on “beginner,” though – because I’m such a novice, I really can’t say whether more advanced athletes will find “Sports Stretch” useful or not.

As much as I like the book, I do have a few complaints. Most of the stretches, with few exceptions, only have a single illustration. Given the minimalist instructions, many of the moves could have used at least one extra picture. Also, once I eased into certain stretches, I found it difficult to gracefully get OUT of them. It seems to me as though the author should have included “exit strategies” for some of a stretches, particularly the more advanced ones! Finally, a few stretches come with the following caveat: “This exercise may be too advanced or dangerous for even some elite athletes.” Now, I would think that “elite” or even “professional” athletes have trainers, and wouldn’t need to rely on a book for stretching advice – so I really don’t see why the author included these seemingly dangerous stretches. Unless he’s asking for a lawsuit! ;)

Otherwise, a great buy, at least for beginner-to-moderate athletes.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?, Kenneth V. Iserson (2001)

Monday, July 25th, 2005

An Encyclopedic Overview of Death & Dying

five out of five stars

Of the many books on death and dying that I’ve read over the past six months, Kenneth Iserson’s “Death to Dust” is by far the most comprehensive and enjoyable of the bunch. Weighing in at over 800 pages, “Death to Dust” is truly an encyclopedic approach to the subject.

Iserson divides his discussion into fourteen chapters; the shortest is about eleven pages (the introduction), while the longest is a massive 80+ pages (the average chapter length is about 50 pages). He adeptly covers all aspects of death, dying, grief, mourning, and post-mortem activities and concerns. He discusses practical matters, such as how to arrange a funeral, bodily transport across state lines, embalming, funerary rituals and etiquette, cremation, and advance directives. Iserson even includes a helpful, ten-page “Body-disposal Instructions and Discussion Guide,” designed to help the living ease the inevitable burden their next of kin will face when they pass away.

However, “Death to Dust” is not simply a consumer guide. Although he does offer a wealth of practical information, he also launches into more esoteric and macabre discussions. Some chapters are certainly not for the faint of heart. If cannibalism, headhunting, corpse dismemberment, grave robbing, anatomical dissection, autopsies, or putrification give you the heebie-jeebies, read with caution! True to its encyclopedic nature, “Death to Dust” takes care to cover ALL aspects of death and dying – particularly the more unpleasant and morbid topics. Iserson approaches these subjects with a dry sense of humor. Although I thought that his witticisms spiced the book up and made his discussion more entertaining, some audiences might be taken aback by Iserson’s (sometimes) light tone.

It’s obvious that Iserson (or his editor!) spent a lot of time making the book easily navigable (an especially important detail in a book this size!). Each of the fourteen chapters is further sub-divided into lettered subsections (usually 25+ per chapter). The subsections each have their own heading and read like short articles, so that readers can easily browse through the book and skim over desired sections. The index and table of contents are also very detailed. Finally, Iserson has gone to great pains to cite every single reference he consulted while constructing the book – and there are many! The typical chapter has hundreds of footnotes, which are conveniently included at the end of each individual chapter.

For the macabre among us, if you buy just one book on death and dying this year, look no further – “Death to Dust” is it! Those looking to arrange for their own post-mortem plans might find the book helpful as well, although there are consumer guides designed specifically for advising individuals of wills, advance directives, organ donation, and corpse disposal (“Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love,” by Lisa Carlson, is an excellent place to start). I’m not sure I’d recommend “Death to Dust” to the newly bereaved, however; some of the subject matter might prove a bit upsetting. On the upside, it’s easy to skip over these sections altogether, as the book is very organized.

My only gripe: Iserson included WAY too many quotes from the self-proclaimed “poet-mortician,” Thomas Lynch – who, I have determined, is a gawd-awful poet with an exaggerated view of his own self-importance. I literally cringed every time Iserson included excerpts of his amateurish prose – it’s just that painful.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)