The Last Dance

December 3, 2008
By , Brooklyn, NY
John Feinstein is a well-known sports writer and author. He graduated from Duke University and began his professional career in 1977 as a writer for the Washington Post. He worked for the Washington Post for over a decade and then later wrote for magazines such as Sports Illustrated. Feinstein first gained national attention when his novel, A Season on the Brink, was the number one selling book in America in 1987. Since that time, he has written many books covering different sports including basketball, golf, and football. These books include A March to Madness, Tales from Q School, A Good Walk Spoiled, and Next Man Up. When writing these books, Feinstein focuses all of his attention on each individual topic, spending countless hours researching each topic as well as interviewing the most important people involved in those topics. In addition to writing books, Feinstein contributes to many newspapers and magazines, and is a commentator on National Public Radio as well as Navy football radio (NPR- John Feinstein Bio).

The Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, by John Feinstein, is based on the 2005 Final Four, the championship weekend of Division One NCAA basketball. Feinstein gives the reader a behind the scenes view of the Final Four, and shares the stories of many important people associated with the Mecca of the college basketball world. For example, the stories of Rich Clarkson, Billy Packer, and Mike Kryzewski are shared. Clarkson was a photographer at the first Final Four, and he went on to take photos and attend the Final Four for 50 years. Packer was a star on the 1962 Wake Forest Final Four team, a fact unknown to many college basketball fans. Feinstein also tells the complete story of Kryzewski, from his playing days at Army to his problems with Bob Knight to his coaching experience at Duke. He also discusses the events surrounding the Final Four, such as the lobby at the coaches' hotel. Years ago, this area was a place where the coaches could come and talk to each other about basketball as well as life into the late hours of the night. Nowadays, the lobby is a media frenzy, and coaches try to spend as little time there as possible.
Not only does Feinstein discuss the events of the 2005 Final Four, but he also informs the reader of the events of previous years. From the 1983 N.C. State national championship team coached by the legendary Jim Valvano to the 1985 Georgetown-Villanova national championship game, Feinstein discusses many of the great Final Fours of the past. In addition, Feinstein highlights the factors that helped the Final Four go from a small event that couldn't fill a 10,000-seat gymnasium to a huge weekend event that is viewed by millions on television. One major factor showing the growth in popularity was the idea of a NCAA tournament selection show. Billy Packer originally thought of this idea as a way to generate more interest prior to the tournament, and now this show is very popular. One major sports issue that is communicated in the book is the college basketball business. It has become a very big business over the years, but Feinstein still shows that it still has history and values as well as positive competition that helps build character.
Literary reviews of The Last Dance that I have seen vary greatly. Both and The New York Times published literary reviews on this book. The review is much more positive than negative. The author believes that all college basketball fans should read The Last Dance. He also likes the fact that the book gives a “history lesson” about the Final Four as well as the NCAA tournament. According to this review, the weakness of the book is its repetitiveness. Certain facts are repeated many times throughout the book, to the point where it may get annoying for some (Book Review: Last Dance).
The New York Times review, on the other hand, is more negative than positive. The author, Jay Jennings, likes the fact that Feinstein addresses the topic of the Final Four and gives historical background about the Final Four. Jennings believes the major flaw with The Last Dance is Feinstein's “self-plagiarism,” as he uses many of the same stories in this book as he did in his previous books. Another weakness mentioned, once again, is Feinstein's repetitiveness. Jennings even goes as far as saying, “Feinstein is not just a woeful writer; he's a woeful writer who repeats himself.” At the end of this review, the author says he was very disappointed in this book and hopes Feinstein never writes another (Court Reporter). Even though opinions vary between these two reviews, both think that the strength of this book was the historical information while the weakness was his tendency to repeat information.
I believe that The Last Dance is a very well written and well-researched book. It is obvious that Feinstein knows what he is talking about and has researched his topic very thoroughly. My favorite part of this book is Feinstein's story telling technique. He keeps the reader very interested in what he is talking about, and does a good job of informing the reader of many different topics and stories involving the Final Four as well as the college basketball in general. After reading this book, I felt much more informed on college basketball, especially the historical information on the sport. Like it was said in the literary reviews, I believe this book was repetitive. Certain stories did not have to be told so often. By the end of the book, I felt it was dragging out, as many of the stories he relayed had already been told. On the whole, I enjoyed this book very much. I believe that non-college basketball fans may not enjoy it as much, but if you are a true fan, it is worth your time to read this book.

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