The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do
Michael Mandelbaum. PublicAffairs, $26 (332pp) ISBN 978-1-58648-252-7
Of all the sporting contests in the world, baseball, basketball and football are by far the most popular in America: millions of diehard fans dedicate countless hours to following these games on TV, in print and in person. But perhaps few fans know why they are drawn to one sport more than another, or why they feel such a strong affiliation to their favorite. In his ninth book, Mandelbaum applies the same tactical research skills that made him a leading authority on American foreign policy to chronicling the history of the big-three American sports, of the superstars who became household names and of the evolution of the rules of each game. Baseball, which experienced its great rise during America's agrarian stage when the majority of the nation's people lived in rural areas, plays to our longing for the pure, the outdoors, he says. When the country entered its industrial period, and many people worked in factories with extremely specialized jobs, football, a sport in which each player is assigned carefully specialized roles, began to evolve in American schools. Basketball, unlike the other more organic sports, was invented during the post-industrial age. Like the ""knowledge workers"" of that era-the economists, psychologists and designers-basketball required that athletes bring little equipment to the court. The author parallels each sport's history with the history of our nation, explaining in textbook-like prose why each became popular and endured where other sports did not.
Reviewed on: 06/01/2004