Feinstein, John 1956–
Feinstein, John 1956–
PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "Fine-steen"; born July 28, 1956, in New York, NY; son of Martin (an opera director) and Berwile (a college professor) Feinstein; married; wife's name Mary Clare; children: Daniel. Education: Duke University, B.A., 1977 (one source says 1978). Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Washington Post, Washington, DC, sportswriter, beginning 1977; special contributor to Sports Illustrated; sportswriter for National. Commentator for National Public Radio and ESPN.
MEMBER: U.S. Basketball Writers Association, U.S. Tennis Writers Association (vice president), National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, Newspaper Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: U.S. Basketball Writers Association awards, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985; National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association best sports stories awards, 1982, 1985, and 1986, and DC writer of the year award, 1985; best event coverage award, Associated Press Sports Editors, 1985; William Hill Sports Book of the Year, 1995, for A Good Walk Spoiled; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best young adult novel, Mystery Writers of America, 2006, for Last Shot.
A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
A Season Inside: One Year in College Basketball, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Forever's Team, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Hard Courts: Real Life on the Professional Tennis Tours, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.
A Civil War, Army vs. Navy: A Year inside College Football's Purest Rivalry, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
(Editor) The Best American Sports Writing 1996, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
A March to Madness: The View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998, reprinted with new afterword, 1999.
The First Coming: Tiger Woods, Master or Martyr?, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.
The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1999.
The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division 1 Basketball's Least-Known League, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight that Changed Basketball Forever, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.
(With Red Auerbach) Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.
Open: Inside the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, Time Warner (London, England), 2004.
Next Man Up: A Year behind the Lines in Today's NFL, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2005.
Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story, Black Boy Books, 2005.
Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Sporting News, Basketball Times, Outlook, and Eastern Basketball.
Running Mates (mystery), Villard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Winter Games (mystery), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.
Last Shot (young adult novel; "Final Four Mystery" series), Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
ADAPTATIONS: A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, Time Warner AudioBooks, 1998; A Season on the Brink was adapted as a television movie starring Brian Dennehy, ESPN, 2002; The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail was adapted as an audiobook.
SIDELIGHTS: John Feinstein is an award-winning sportswriter who first gained national attention with his 1986 best-seller, A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. The book recounts Indiana University's 1985–1986 basketball season, from the first organizational meetings to the team's surprising loss to Cleveland State University in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament. Feinstein wrote the book after enjoying unusually close access to coach Bobby Knight and his team's practices, meetings, and game-time huddles during an entire season. (Many reporters have tried unsuccessfully to get the kind of intimate coverage Feinstein was allowed.) When A Season on the Brink was published, it quickly sold out of its initial printing of seventeen thousand copies and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, where it was number one for seventeen weeks.
Impressive sales of A Season on the Brink reflect the widespread interest in Indiana's legendary basketball coach. Having led the Hoosiers to three national championships, Knight's record of success is indisputable. But the coach is also known to verbally abuse players and publicly display his anger, making him one of the most controversial figures in college athletics. Notorious examples of Knight's foul temper include assaulting a police officer during the 1979 Pan-American games and throwing a chair across a gym floor in a nationally televised 1985 basketball game. Knight's darker side also comes out on the practice floor. Feinstein reports that one of the coach's favorite tactics is to subject players to as much or more pressure in practice than they will face in games.
Knight, however, is also capable of being friendly towards and supportive of his players. Feinstein notes that the relationships the coach develops with athletes often extend well beyond college graduation. Mike Douchant reported in the Sporting News that upon learning the book's contents, Knight said in the Chicago Sun-Times that "the guy that wrote the book is the worst whore I've ever been around." The Indiana coach felt Feinstein had betrayed an agreement that the book was to focus on the players, not their coach. Feinstein told Douchant that although he spent nearly a year with the coach, Knight now refuses to speak to him: "Our relationship is nonexistent. I've written to him twice since the book came out, but he has declined to either speak with me or write to me…. By trusting me, a mistake was made in his own mind because things didn't turn out the way he thought they should…. If you're against him—and I guess he has decided I'm against him—he decides you are the worst person who ever lived."
Reviewers' reactions to A Season on the Brink were positive, with many especially appreciating Feinstein's in-depth account of Knight's personality. Kim Gagne, for instance, wrote in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that "Feinstein offers an insider's perspective that brings the reader to an appreciation of both the genius and the madness of the coach." Washington Post Book World contributor John Jerome emphasized the "madness" of Knight in his review, saying that while reading the book, "the suspicion quickly grows that basketball is only the medium Knight has chosen for his compulsive and mean-spirited manipulation of people—players, staff, officials, press, fellow coaches, even college administrators."
Feinstein has written other books on college basketball, as well. A Season Inside: One Year in College Basketball details the 1987–1988 basketball season, during which Feinstein saw 104 games. He recounts the highs and lows of the year and provides an inside look at such prominent university coaches as Dean Smith of North Carolina, John Thompson of Georgetown, and Larry Brown of Kansas, the school that won the 1988 NCAA championship. Critics enjoyed the book, especially Washington Post contributor Robert D. Novak, who wrote: "Feinstein has attempted a tour de force and pretty well pulled it off. He has managed to convey the excitement, intrigue, confrontation, hysteria and sheer intoxication of college basketball. A Season on the Brink … was the best book about college basketball I had read. This one is better." Feinstein's other college basketball book, Forever's Team, is his most personal: it concerns a basketball team from Duke University, his alma mater. The 1978–1979 basketball season was the best in a long time for the Duke Blue Devils, who came within six points of beating Kentucky in the championship game. Forever's Team charts the gelling process that occurred during the season amongst the players, and it reviews their lives after leaving Duke. Not as well received as Feinstein's first two works, the book was widely considered to be of the most interest to Duke University students.
Another basketball book by Feinstein is Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game, which he wrote with his subject, former Celtics coach Red Auerbach. This time, instead of infiltrating the team, Feinstein nudged his way into the regular lunches that Auerbach had with his friends in Washington, DC, every Tuesday. The coach regales the reader with his many stories that have accrued in his memory over the years, and Feinstein also writes about what happened at the lunches themselves, which were attended by many basketball insiders. Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky described the result as a "fascinating life story, a terrific basketball book, and a compelling look at generations communicating around a modern-day campfire."
In Feinstein's fourth book, Hard Courts: Real Life on the Professional Tennis Tours, the author demystifies the glamour surrounding the world of professional tennis. Using his characteristic formula, he spent a year on the pro tennis circuit, getting to know the famous and not-so-famous players, their families, and their agents. More than one hundred interviews inform the text of Hard Courts, which presents professional tennis in a distinctly unflattering light. According to the author, there is a great deal of prejudice toward the top-ranked players, who get away with many violations that would never be tolerated among lesser players. This inevitably encourages spoiled, temperamental behavior among tennis stars, who in Feinstein's view are frequently motivated by overwhelming greed. Many reviewers praised the book for its insight, yet found it hard to enjoy because of the unappealing portrait of the tennis world. As Julie Cart wrote in the New York Times, Feinstein shows he has "rare insight into the professional tennis tour. Hard Courts peels back layer after layer of surface gloss and undeniable glamour to expose the machinations of players' agents, the power of television and the wheeling and dealing of unscrupulous promoters. The picture is not pretty."
Feinstein took a similar approach to his research for A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, spending a year on the PGA tour to get to know what life is like for golf insiders. He found a stark contrast to many other professional sports; golfers generally really do play by the rules, live quiet lives, and go to bed early. Michael Bamberger, a writer for the New York Times Book Review, stated that in writing this book, Feinstein "has proved himself to be a dependable, thorough and honest reporter." The author revisited the golf world several years later with The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail, in which he explores the special characteristics of four major golf championships, while following such celebrity contenders as Tiger Woods, David Duval, and Mark O'Meara. It is a "comprehensive and immensely enjoyable" work, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. New York Times Book Review contributor Dave Anderson remarked: "If you want to know how touring pros think, on and off the course but particularly on the courses that are the crucibles of the majors, this is the book."
Golf is also the subject of Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black and Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story. The former is about how the public golf course in Manhattan managed to become the home of the U.S. Open, while the latter is an emotional tale of one of the sport's most successful caddies and his tragic death from ALS—Lou Gehrig's disease. Feinstein follows Edwards story, including his years as the right-hand adviser for golf greats Tom Watson and Greg Norman. The closeness these men felt is particularly shown after Edwards learns of his disease and Watson works to raise money for ALS research. Ron Rapoport, writing for the Washington Monthly, commented on how Feinstein took his time developing his story and showing many of the small details of these men's lives, concluding: "In this writer's accomplished hands, small is beautiful." A Publishers Weekly reviewer asserted that Caddy for Life "will thoroughly entertain golf fans."
Many of Feinstein's books have focused on the purity of various sports. In A Civil War, Army vs. Navy: A Year inside College Football's Purest Rivalry Feinstein examines what he considers to be one of the purest rivalries in the world of sport: the Army vs. Navy football game. Unlike regular college athletes who are frequently excused from the real work of university courses, the young men on the Army and Navy teams have to work extremely hard, not only at their sport and studies, but in their military training too. Since the service academies are unable to compete for the biggest high school stars, their games are no longer high-profile events, yet in Feinstein's view, they are the source of some of the finest sport played anywhere. Sporting News contributor Steve Gietschier called A Civil War "remarkable" and further described it as "a book as intense and fascinating as the football it describes." Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky wrote: "Amid an extensive body of fine work, this is arguably Feinstein's best. Highly recommended."
Continuing in a similar vein to the exposés of A Season on the Brink and Hard Courts are such books by Feinstein as The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight that Changed Basketball Forever and Next Man Up: A Year behind the Lines in Today's NFL. The former is about the infamous 1977 event when Los Angeles Lakers player Kermit Washington hit Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets in the face during a basketball game. The punch was so hard it caused Tomjanovich to suffer brain damage. Feinstein uses this as a jumping off point to talk about the world of basketball before and after commissioner Bruce Stern was put in charge and radically changed behavior on the court. The author also tells his readers what later became of the two players: Tomjanovich overcame his injuries and became a successful coach, while Washington fared much less well because of his inability to emotionally cope with what he had done. A Kirkus Reviews writer described the book as a "rambling ride, but instructive and likable."
Feinstein's skill at getting inside a sport comes in handy with Next Man Up, in which he spent a year with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens in 2004 after getting the permission of the team's coach and owner. While professional football players are well compensated in the sport, the author was surprised at the high level of stress the players endure. Having an insider's look in the locker rooms, Feinstein shows how tensions build as a result of several factors, including injuries, media criticism, and, most of all, the fact that these players do not have guaranteed contracts, so their career futures are always uncertain. Christian Science Monitor writer Steve Weinberg was, first of all, impressed by how Feinstein was willing to explore pro football, a new topic for him, demonstrating that "Feinstein is willing to grow as a reporter and writer rather than rest on his laurels." The critic added that Next Man Up is a quality book that will please football fans. "Football has never seemed as personal as it does here, in one of Feinstein's most involving books," concluded Bill Ott in Booklist.
College basketball is the subject of Feinstein's 2006 book, Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four. Here he uses his reportage of the 2005 tournament as a point for discussing the history behind the playoffs. Interestingly, Stephen Cannella averred in his Sports Illustrated review that Last Dance is a "bad sports book," the victim of Feinstein's high level of productivity that results in the work being overwritten. On the other hand, in Booklist Wes Lukowsky maintained that Last Dance offers more evidence that Feinstein is "arguably the best book-length sports journalist working today," adding that this is a "terrific book."
In addition to his nonfiction work, Feinstein has also penned several fiction works. His first is a mystery titled Running Mates, a political thriller involving the assassination of Maryland's governor. An investigative reporter looking into the case discovers a surprising alliance between a right-wing extremist and a radical feminist who may have had the governor killed so that his female lieutenant-governor would come to power. A Publishers Weekly reviewer voiced praise for Running Mates, stating: "A strong, surprising resolution caps this thriller that delivers on its promise despite its protagonist's occasionally larger-than-life heroism and incredible luck." In Winter Games, Feinstein's second mystery, a burned-out reporter returns to his hometown seeking peace and quiet, but discovers that the place is in an uproar because of a superstar on the high-school basketball team. The recruiting frenzy surrounding the young sports figure leads to the death of an assistant coach. Winter Games is, in the opinion of another Publishers Weekly commentator, a "dark portrayal of murder and rampant corruption on the college courts."
Feinstein ventures into young adult fiction with Last Shot. The story of two teens who win a journalism contest and are rewarded with tickets to the Final Four games, this novel was penned by the author with the intention of introducing young readers to the seamier side of sports. The main characters in the story, Steve Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, uncover a plot to blackmail one of the players to throw the game. Fein-stein combines his knowledge of the sport with a mystery and adventure in what USA Today contributor John Wihbey described as "both a page-turning thriller and a basketball junkie's bonanza." "Mystery fans will find enough suspense in this fast-paced narrative to keep them hooked," Gerry Larson similarly concluded in a School Library Journal review, while Miles Klein concluded in Kliatt that "[Young adults], especially those interested in college sports, will definitely enjoy this."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1992, Mary Carroll, review of Running Mates, p. 1340; April 1, 1993, Wes Lukowsky, review of Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball, p. 1386; May 15, 1995, Bill Ott, review of A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, p. 1626; November 1, 1995, Wes Lukowsky, review of Winter Games, p. 457; October 1, 1996, Bill Ott, review of The Best American Sports Writing, 1996, p. 316; November 15, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy: A Year inside College Football's Purest Rivalry, p. 565; November 15, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of A March to Madness: The View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference, p. 522; September 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of A March to Madness, p. 55; March 1, 1999, Bill Ott, review of The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail, p. 1100; September 15, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I, Basketball's Least-Known League, p. 186; April 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story, p. 1402; September 15, 2004, Wes Lukowsky, review of Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game, p. 178; October 15, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Next Man Up: A Year behind the Lines in the NFL, p. 4; January 1, 2006, Wes Lukowsky, review of Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, p. 21.
Book Week, January 18, 1998, review of A March to Madness, p. 6; May 1, 2003, Bill Ott, review of Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black, p. 1506.
Business Week, April 5, 1993, David Greising, review of Play Ball, p. 8.
Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 1991, Gregory M. Lamb, review of Hard Courts: Real Life on the Professional Tennis Tours, p. 12; April 23, 1993, Charles Fountain, review of Play Ball, p. 11; October 4, 1995, Keith Henderson, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 15; December 6, 1996, Ross Atkin, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy, p. 13; December 13, 2005, Steve Weinberg, "Feinstein Does Football; A Bestselling Author Tells How Writing about the Pro Gridiron Is Different," review of Next Man Up, p. 16; March 14, 2006, John Ettorre, "A Primer in March Madness; Sports Author John Feinstein Offers a Loving Look at College Hoops," review of Last Dance, p. 17.
Commentary, September, 1993, Jay P. Lefkowitz, review of Play Ball, p. 61.
Economist, February 15, 1997, review of The Best American Sports Writing 1996, p. 15.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 10, 1999, review of The Majors, p. D11.
Journal and Constitution (Atlanta, GA), March 1, 1987, Kim Gagne, review of A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997, review of A March to Madness, p. 1683; March 15, 1999, review of The Majors, p. 426; September 15, 2002, review of The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight that Changed Basketball Forever, p. 1363; August 15, 2005, review of Next Man Up, p. 894.
Kliatt, September, 1997, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 7; July, 2004, Tom Adamich, review of Open, p. 45; September, 2005, Miles Klein, review of Last Shot, p. 51.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 2, 1999, Ed Sherman, review of The Majors, p. K6030; December 10, 2000, Ed Sherman, "Sports Books by Cramer, Feinstein Tell Intriguing Stories," p. K2566.
Library Journal, May 1, 1993, Albert Spencer, review of Play Ball, p. 92; May 15, 1995, Terry Madden, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 76; November 1, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Winter Games, p. 109; October 1, 1996, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy, p. 87; January, 1998, William O. Scheeren, review of A March to Madness, p. 109; April 15, 1999, Peter Ward, review of The Majors, p. 105; November 1, 2002, Jim Burns, review of The Punch, p. 97.
New York Times, August 25, 1991, Julie Cart, review of Hard Courts; December 22, 1991, Michael Kornfeld, review of Hard Courts; February 11, 1996, Charley Rosen, review of Winter Games;December 24, 1997, Richard Bernstein, review of A March to Madness; December 12, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Last Amateurs, p. B7.
New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of Running Mates, p. 23; April 4, 1993, Roger Noll, review of Play Ball, p. 24; June 11, 1995, Michael Bamberger, review of A Good Walk Spoiled; February 11, 1996, Charley Rosen, review of Winter Games, p. 22; November 3, 1996, Michael Lichtenstein, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy, p. 18; March 22, 1998, David Davis, review of A March to Madness, p. 16; February 28, 1999, review of A March to Madness, p. 24; May 2, 1999, Dave Anderson, review of The Majors, p. 16.
People, June 19, 1995, Tony Chiu, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 36; March 16, 1998, Alex Tresniowski, review of A March to Madness, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, March 2, 1992, review of Running Mates, p. 52; April 24, 1995, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 52; September 25, 1995, review of Winter Games, p. 46; September 16, 1996, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy, p. 61; October 14, 1996, review of The Best American Sports Writing 1996, p. 78; December 1, 1997, review of A March to Madness, p. 38; March 22, 1998, David Davis, review of A March to Madness, p. 16; March 29, 1999, review of The Majors, p. 76; October 23, 2000, review of The Last Amateurs, p. 71; April 5, 2004, review of Caddy for Life, p. 58; January 24, 2005, review of Last Shot, p. 244.
School Library Journal, January, 1992, Dino Vretos, review of Hard Courts, p. 145; August, 1993, Judy Sokoll, review of Play Ball, p. 206; January, 2005, Gerry Larson, review of Last Shot, p. 128.
Sporting News, February 16, 1987, Mike Douchant, review of A Season on the Brink; July 3, 1995, Steve Gietschier, review of A Good Walk Spoiled, p. 7; November 18, 1996, Steve Gietschier, review of A Civil War, Army vs. Navy, p. 8.
Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1991, Ron Fimrite, review of Hard Courts, p. 8; February 23, 1998, Charles Hirshberg, review of A March to Madness, p. A27; March 22, 1999, Walter Bingham, review of The Majors, p. R26; November 13, 2000, Charles Hirshberg, review of The Last Amateur, p. R16; October 25, 2004, Charles Hirshberg, "Pull Up a Chair," review of Let Me Tell You a Story, p. Z2; November 14, 2005, Charles Hirshberg, "Stress Management: John Feinstein's Season with the Baltimore Ravens Gives an Intimate Look at the Pressure of NFL Life," review of Next Man Up, p. Z4; March 6, 2006, Charles Hirshberg and Stephen Cannella, "In Search of Ratface: A Tar Heels Fan Travels into the Heart of Darkness to See If Coach K and the Dukies Are Truly Evil," review of Last Dance, p. Z4.
Time, September 2, 1991, John Skow, Hard Courts, p. 69.
USA Today, March 10, 2005, John Wihbey, "'Final Four' Lets Teens Know the Score," review of Last Shot, p. D6; April 4, 2005, "This Trey No Long Shot among Hoops Books," review of Last Shot, p. C9.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1998, review of Winter Games, p. 41.
Wall Street Journal, April 23, 1993, Frederick C. Klein, review of Play Ball, p. A12; July 26, 1995, Frederick C. Klein, A Good Walk Spoiled, p. A10; April 9, 1999, review of The Majors, p. W10; November 10, 2000, Larry Platt, review of The Last Amateurs, p. W8.
Washington Monthly, December, 2000, David Plotz, review of The Last Amateurs, p. 52; May, 2004, Ron Rapoport, "Golf Balls: Fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease on the PGA Tour," review of Caddy for Life, p. 54.
Washington Post, November 28, 1988, Robert D. Novak, review of A Season Inside: One Year in College Basketball.
Washington Post Book World, November 23, 1986, John Jerome, review of A Season on the Brink.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (August 31, 2006), "Author Spotlight," interview with John Feinstein.
TeenReads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (August 31, 2006), Kristi Olson, review of Last Shot.
Time for Kids, http://www.timeforkids.com/ (August 31, 2006), Jack Mullaney, "Meet John Feinstein, Author," interview with John Feinstein.