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Heroes of sport that touched England's great cricket legend

<strong>MY SPORTING HEROES</strong><br />BY IAN BOTHAM<br />Mainstream, &pound;18.99<br /><br />WHEN AN icon such as Sir Ian Botham lists you among his sporting heroes, then you know you have a story to tell.<br /><br />Fresh from the success of his 2007 autobiography Head On, England&rsquo;s finest all-round cricketer is back with My Sporting Heroes &ndash; a light-hearted look at the sportspeople from Britain and Ireland who have inspired this colourful character through a glittering career both on and off the field.<br /><br />Here, &ldquo;Beefy&rdquo; &ndash; as he is affectionately known &ndash; takes us through the 10 qualities he believes fundamental in any sporting hero, and lists the 50 great bastions of those qualities.<br /><br />In each case, he details the highs and lows of each of their careers and gives his personal experiences of time spent with them or admiring from afar.<br />Botham singles out a wide range of sporting heroes, stretching back to the days of cricketing legend of the fifties and sixties, Ken Barrington, to stars of today like Andy Murray, leaving no stone unturned.<br /><br />Botham recalls how Sir Alex Ferguson told him to &ldquo;watch out for a lad called Rooney&rdquo; about eight years ago and how City A.M.&rsquo;s very own Sam Torrance once hurled cricketer Robin Smith&rsquo;s prized putter into the lake after a disastrous round on the greens.<br /><br />Botham&rsquo;s insights and personal anecdotes put the seal on a light, informative and often humourous read, which undoubtedly deserves pride of place on any sports-buff&rsquo;s book shelf this Christmas. <br /><br />Jon Couch<br /><br /><strong>HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY</strong><br />BY AUDREY NIFFENEGGER<br />Jonathan Cape, &pound;18.99<br /><br />Audrey Niffenegger hit a big nerve with her first book, The Time Traveller&rsquo;s Wife, which was turned into a film with Eric Bana earlier this year. It appears that half of America &ndash; followed by the UK &ndash; had a burning appetite for the themes of time travel, identity, love and loss, especially when all mixed up together. <br /><br />Her second novel shares similar themes, except the time travelling has been replaced by a ghost story, and the central lovers are replaced by two sets of identical twins.<br /><br />Elspeth lived in London and sister Edie in small-town America; the two were estranged since their early twenties for reasons unknown until near the end of the book. The book opens with Elspeth death from cancer, and soon moves to Edie&rsquo;s teenage daughters, Julia and Valentina, whose lives are restricted by their stiflingly close relationship. <br /><br />A letter arrives from a London solicitor, notifying Valentina and Julia that Elspeth has left them her flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery, but on two conditions. They must live there for a year before they can sell or let it, and their parents can never set foot inside it. <br /><br />The girls move, and soon find themselves on the periphery of various lives imploding &ndash; there&rsquo;s the obsessive compulsive crossword setter that lives upstairs and their aunt&rsquo;s mysterious lover that lives below &ndash; all the while Elspeth&rsquo;s ghost is present. The chain of events the girls have set off in moving to Highgate Cemetery finally leads to the secret of their mother and aunt&rsquo;s separation, and it&rsquo;s a tale worth waiting for.<br /><br />This is just as elegiac and well observed as The Time Traveller&rsquo;s Wife, and eerie in a way that feels poignant. Niffenegger&rsquo;s artistic background always translates to beautifully composed images that touch &ndash; sometimes rattle &ndash; her readers to the core. <br /><br />Zoe Strimpel<br /><br /><strong>MIKE BLOOMBERG &ndash; MONEY, POWER, POLITICS</strong><br />BY JOYCE PURNICK<br />Public Affairs, &pound;15.99<br /><br />If YOU&rsquo;VE worked in finance and banking, chances are you&rsquo;ve used the Bloomberg newswires, software and terminals that made their creator, Michael Bloomberg, America&rsquo;s eighth richest man. However, his even more high-profile success &ndash; as far as mainstream America is concerned &ndash; has been as New York&rsquo;s mayor, holding the position since soon after the 9/11 attacks. <br /><br />Joyce Purnick has succeeded in creating an absorbing and informative biography of a man whose personality seems to fall far short of his achievements. She revels in his paradoxes &ndash; the diminutive, cranky businessman with little of the charm considered essential in US politics who became a massively popular mayor; the billionaire plutocrat, accused of using his wealth to buy power, who became an education reformer; the lifelong Democrat who opportunistically joined the Republicans to become mayor. <br /><br />Bloomberg, who has managed to change the law to enable him to become the Big Apple&rsquo;s first mayor to run for a third term, and who is expected to prevail in the forthcoming election, is a complex, intriguing figure. If she never manages to break through to his inner motivations, Purnick&rsquo;s exhaustive reporting paints a fascinating picture of a remarkable man.<br /><br />Timothy Barber