January 2010 Bookshelf

Willful Misconduct: the Shocking Story of Pan Am Flight 806 and its Startling Aftermath (1984) by William Norris

There aren’t too many things that mesmerize me more than passenger jet disasters (my personal favorite – if that’s the right word – being Tenerife…).  The one Norris describes here is a whopper: a Boeing 707 crashes, amazingly, virtually intact a short distance from its runway, but because Pan Am was trying to save money the plane had been illegally overloaded with jet fuel so, as soon as the fuselage ruptured, the cabin turned into the world’s largest pizza oven.  4 people survived, and it took 10 years for any of the victims or their families to see payout from Pan Am thanks to a series of underhanded legal maneuvers that included suppressing the pilots’ performance records (hint: they weren’t very good pilots).  This book will make you want to get on a plane immediately.  Trust me.

The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties and the Game That Changed the NFL (2009) by Gary Meyers

Meyers’ oddly structured (more on that below) account of, arguably, the most dramatic play in professional (American) football history had an unlikely effect on me: it left me feeling melancholy.  Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome book, but the build up to, and the consequences of, the play referenced in the title quickly, and sharply, remind the reader of time’s fluidity.  This abstraction runs deep in this story; lives and fortunes are forever altered, the way the sport is played was forever altered and, for sure, a generational shift in the NFL began as a result of the slim victory the 49ers earned over the Cowboys that day back in January 1982.

Technically, I’m not sure the non-linear structure works as well as it has in other similar works, most notably L. Jon Wertheim’s recent Strokes of Genius (brilliant, incidentally).  Anecdotes of players, incidents, etc. are interspersed among a slow build up to the play that produced “the catch” (Sprint Right Option for any trivia buffs out there).  The problem here is the level of repetition about certain elements of the 1981-82 NFC Championship game comes in consistently annoying waves and eventually becomes something of a distraction.   This minor gripe aside, it was near impossible to put down and at only 240 pages, it was well worth the short time it took to read.  You’ll feel like you’re sitting in Candlestick Park watching the game…

Of note: I wasn’t surprised – at all – to learn that current Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones is an even bigger dick than I previously thought.  The dump he took on coaching legend Tom Landry (29 years as Cowboys’ head coach, 5 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Super Bowl championships) was inexcusable.  Just one more reason to hate ‘dem Cowboys.

The Smoking Cupcake, January 2010

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