Sidecountry Tales of death and life from the back roads of sports

John Branch

Book - 2021

"Breathtaking tales of climbers and hunters, runners and racers, winners and losers by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. New York Times reporter John Branch's riveting, humane features on ordinary people doing extraordinary things at the edges of the sporting world have won nearly every major journalism prize. Sidecountry gathers the best of Branch's work for the first time, including classic pieces like "Snow Fall," about skiers caught in an avalanche in Washington S...tate, and "Dawn Wall," about rock climbers trying to scale Yosemite's famed El Capitan. In other articles, Branch introduces people whose dedication and decency transcend their sporting lives, including a revered football coach rebuilding his tornado-devastated town in Iowa and a girls' basketball team in Tennessee who play on, despite never winning a game. The book culminates with his moving personal pieces, including "The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey," about a mother killed in the Las Vegas shooting whose daughter happens to play on Branch's daughter's soccer team"--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 796.0973/Branch Checked In
Sports writing
New York, N.Y. : W.W. Norton & Company [2021]
First edition
Physical Description
xviii, 350 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Main Author
John Branch (author)
  • Snow fall
  • The Dawn Wall
  • Lost brother
  • On league night, a 300 game lives
  • Perfection in the horseshoe pit
  • Where drivers and danger meet
  • Enduring traditions
  • Where creativity wags its tail
  • A last hurrah for Hollywood Park
  • The Lady Jaguars
  • Hunting something that can hunt you back
  • The most perilous prize
  • The ultimate pursuit
  • "You're either the hunter or the hunted"
  • Deliverance from 27,000 feet
  • Seeing the world beyond the court
  • A football coach, a tornado and a murder
  • They heard the helicopter go down. Then they prayed
  • Children of the cube
  • The girl in the no. 8 jersey.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Branch (The Last Cowboys) showcases his keen ability to find unusual human interest angles in sports and culture journalism in this expansive collection. The opening section, "Climbing and Falling," starts off with a restrained, inquisitive consideration of the aftermath of an avalanche in the Pulitzer-winning "Snow Fall," which is contrasted by "The Dawn Wall,"a triumphant portrait of climbers scaling El Capitan on Yosemite unassisted. Branch's pitch-perfect "On League Night, A 300 Game Lives" spotlights a man who, after bowling his first perfect game, drops dead of a heart attack, reminding readers that "life is not a blurb." In "The Lady Jaguars," he brings readers into the locker room with a losing girl's reform school basketball team, with bracing insights on poverty and class in rural Tennessee. Other selections veer into obscure scenes, such as the Intergroom dog grooming show ("Where Creativity Wags Its Tail"), bidding wars to the right to hunt bighorn rams ("The Ultimate Pursuit"), or exhibitions of world-class Rubik's Cube aficionados ("Children of the Cube"). The final section, "Dying and Living," gathers somber pieces, including an interview with the pastor of a church within view of where the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others crashed. Branch delivers consistently smart, startling observations--and offers something for every reader, whether or not they'd consider themselves "sports fans." (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times and author of The Last Cowboys, presents a collection of sports stories that he found impossible to forget; he specifically seeks out stories that readers might not have known they wanted to read. "Sidecountry" refers to the place just outside of the controlled parts of a ski area; a place that is within reach, but still considered to be out of bounds. With that in mind, Branch brings attention to the outlying world of sports. He profiles Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park; horseshoes pitcher Alan Francis as he seeks success in an overlooked sport; and a fast-paced Rubik's Cube competition as seen through the eyes of Branch's son. Some of the strongest essays focus on basketball, from a profile of a team operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court, to a candid interview with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr about the intertwining of politics and sports VERDICT Branch's essays depict ordinary people doing extraordinary things at the fringes of the sporting world. This collection can be enjoyed by a wide range of readers and sports fans.--Gary Medina, El Camino Coll., Torrance, CA

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Triumphs and tragedies beyond the realm of organized sports. New York Times sports reporter Branch has selected 20 articles from more than 2,000 pieces featuring people whose passions drive them to take on intense, quirky, sometimes risky challenges. The title essay, awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2013, focuses on skiers caught in an avalanche on the wild slopes known as "side country"--"just outside the controlled parts of a ski area"--a phrase that aptly describes other terrains that Branch surveys. A palpable sense of peril and terror infuses many pieces: about climbers scaling the sleek surface of El Capitan's Dawn Wall, a dayslong feat that requires sleeping in hanging cots attached to bolts on the mountain; competitors in the terrifying motor sport of figure-eight car racing; alligator hunters in Alabama; divers for abalone confronting surf, riptides, swells, and threatening weather off the coast of northern California; and, not least, Sherpas retrieving a body from Mount Everest. Other pieces reveal uncommon dedication: a coach rebuilding a football field after a tornado; cross-country runners among the Hopi; big-game hunters whose ultimate pursuit is the killing of one wild sheep, an effort that involves weeks--sometimes year after year--of trekking and stalking as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars required for a permit, money that funds wildlife preservation. The most absurd event Branch covered surely must be Intergroom, a three-day trade show for the grooming of dogs and cats into such entertaining personages as the Mad Hatter or Lady Gaga. Among the most moving were one of his daughter's soccer games, in which a girl whose mother was slain by the Las Vegas shooter in 2017 scored a winning goal; and a profile of the Lady Jaguars, a girls' basketball team operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court (Tennessee) to give structure and focus to the players' lives. Spirited tales from a sympathetic observer. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.