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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Torgovnick, Kate: Cheer!

  Amazon  

4 stars

In Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, Kate Torgovnick follows three cheerleading teams during the 2006-07 season, from tryouts in the early spring of 2006 to the Nationals about a year later. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks from Nacogdoches, Texas are the team to beat, hoping to win the NCA College Nationals for the fifth year in a row. The underdogs--or at least the underfunded--are the Southern University Jaguars from Baton Rouge. Their team is perennially strapped for cash and can't count on having the money to make it to  Nationals, however good they may be. The third team Torgovnick follows is an all-girl team, the University of Memphis Tigers.

I love a well-written non-fiction book because it can introduce a reader to wholly unfamiliar worlds. There aren't many subjects less familiar to me than college cheerleading, so Torgovnick's book is eye-opening. Cheerleaders, I learned, are active throughout the year rather than only seasonally, as other sports. Cheering thus implies a big time commitment, and the cheerleaders covered by Torgovnick are very serious indeed about what they do. For most of them, academics are beside the point: many are at school exclusively for the sport, and they selected their colleges based on the reputation of their cheerleading squads. Cheering is also a very dangerous sport. This isn't the pom pom-thrusting, "Give me an S!" sort of cheering that most of us probably think of as cheerleading, but its high-octane, acrobatic cousin, in which too-thin girls are lofted atop three-person-high pyramids and tossed around by burly males. More than one of the cheerleaders covered in the book were injured during the 2006-07 season.

Torgovnick devotes a lot of ink in her book to detailing specific routines, blow-by-blow descriptions of practics and competitions:

"Behind them, Sierra steps into a basket toss and flies up, kicking a leg out and flipping back down to where James Brown and the rest of her spotters cradle her safely. Facing the back of the mat, she shuffles and whips into two back handsprings. She sails into a Full, landing front and center on the mat. This tumbling pass, called a Two to Full, is extremely hard, especially for women. After she lands it flawlessly, she shoots two imaginary guns at the audience with a wink."

These sections were not very interesting to me, but would presumably entertain cheerleading aficionados among Torgovnick's readers. (While the author defines the various moves the cheerleaders make, they remain difficult for me to imagine. One wishes at times that the book could be embedded with video clips.) Readers like me who are not intimately acquainted with the sport might prefer that 50 or 100 pages of description were lopped off the narrative. Still, Torgovnick manages to hold our interest because we are sufficiently invested in the individuals she profiles to want them to succeed.

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