In 1979, a young reporter for the Washington Post received career advice from journalist Bob Woodward, whose Watergate coverage brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Woodward, then a metro editor at the Post, counseled John Feinstein against sports writing for the paper. “You have a chance to become a great reporter,” Woodward advised. “Don’t blow it on sports. If you go back there, you’ll never be heard from again.” Fortunately, for sports fans around the world, Feinstein ignored the advice. Twenty-two sports-themed books later, including two of the bestselling nonfiction sports titles in history, Feinstein is perhaps the most recognized sports journalist of his generation.
"By holding a mirror to his work, he has made his own writing even better. If you have a Feinstein fan on your holiday list, ONE ON ONE is the perfect book."
ONE ON ONE is the type of book that publishers allow successful authors to write as a reward for producing a score of bestselling books. This is a behind-the-scenes look at how many of those great books came to be. Feinstein writes of a different era in sports, a time when writers had greater access to athletes and thus were able to show the real world of sports. Today, journalists meet athletes in “interview” rooms, a locale so artificial as to render true insight almost impossible. Feinstein’s A SEASON ON THE BRINK, the story of a season with Bobby Knight and the Indiana University basketball team, and A GOOD WALK SPOILED, recounting life on the professional golfing tour, were remarkable for the insights obtained from athletes and coaches in unguarded moments. Contemporary athletes, mindful of image and lucrative endorsement contracts, are far more reluctant to open up their lives to journalists.
Reading Feinstein is to read far more than sports. Great sports books capture the spirit of an era and of a public enamored with the game. Great writers capture the essence of where sports fit in the life-size mural that is life. We cannot understand the history of America without understanding Babe Ruth, Red Grange or Bobby Jones. A CIVIL WAR: Army vs. Navy is far more than a book about service academy football; it’s about the men who serve this country by wearing the uniform of our military. In ONE ON ONE, Feinstein returns to many of the players he covered in his previous books to rediscover the triumph and tragedies of their careers that accomplished far more than winning and losing football games.
Throughout ONE ON ONE, readers learn how the other books in the Feinstein library came to be. A SEASON ON THE BRINK is perhaps his most recognized one. Why was Bobby Knight willing to grant Feinstein unlimited access to his basketball program? In part because the writer established himself through his dealings with other prominent college coaches as one who could be trusted. More important, however, was Knight’s agenda. Knight had a message about college basketball that he wanted the public to understand, and Feinstein was the vehicle for spreading that message. Ironically, Knight hated the book. More ironically, Feinstein hated the movie made from the book. The final irony, of course, is that the book is a staple for anyone wanting to learn about college basketball and Knight.
Feinstein has succeeded as a sport journalist by going behind the scenes of great athletes and coaches, from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods, Bobby Knight to Mike Krzyzewski. He also has covered the greatest sporting events in the world, from Wimbledon to the Final Four. Now he has granted readers the type of access he has been afforded. By holding a mirror to his work, he has made his own writing even better. If you have a Feinstein fan on your holiday list, ONE ON ONE is the perfect book.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 8, 2011