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Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World Hardcover – January 7, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2014: Table tennis is a sport invented by monarchs that somehow became the bridge between the capitalist and communist world. In his thorough but briskly paced book Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World, Nicholas Griffin details the surprising geopolitical implications and manipulations of table tennis throughout the 20th century. There are four nations at play: the Brits, namely Ivor Montagu, the man who introduced China to the sport and turned out to be a secret communist spy; the Chinese government, who hosted the World Table Tennis Championships as a means of distracting its population from the fact that tens of millions had died in the wake of three years of famine; the Americans who used the game to create an opportunity for President Nixon to visit Beijing (coining the phrase after which the book takes its title); and the Japanese nationals, who use the sport as a means of being recognized as a serious player in the international community. "There was something to Ping-Pong, a strange tone of diplomacy that was allowing the Japanese to reposition the way the rest of the world was looking at them," Griffin writes. "Of course, no one would have been looking too hard had they not won." --Kevin Nguyen

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It was 1971. The U.S. Table Tennis team was in Japan for the World Table Tennis Championships when they received an unusual invitation: Why not pop over to China for a few informal matches against the Chinese national team? The U.S. team became the first official American delegation to enter China since the late 1940s, the occasion leading to the phrase “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” But what appeared to be a friendly competition sparked by a chance meeting between an American and a Chinese player was actually, the author explains, the culmination of a plan conceived years earlier, designed by the Chinese to be the first step in an eventual rapprochement between the two countries. (Would Nixon have been able to go to China in 1972 if it hadn’t been for the 1971 table-tennis tourney? Doubtful.) Full of eyebrow-raising surprises—the British man who codified the rules of Ping-Pong in the 1920s and brought the game to China, was a spy for the Communists—the book tells the secret history of Ping-Pong, a story of violence and intrigue and political machinations. Ping-Pong as a vehicle for international espionage? It’s an idea so outlandish that, if it weren’t true, some novelist would have to invent it. A remarkable story, well documented and excitingly told. --David Pitt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1ST.1ST PRINT edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451642776
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451642773
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miha Ahronovitz on March 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World has three parts: The West, The East and East meets West. Amazon says this is a book about geopolitics and spying. My reading: this is a book about extraordinary people that all Griffin books bring to light.

It follows the life of The Honorable Ivor Goldsmid Samuel Montagu, the third son of the 2nd Baron Swaythling, one of the richest man in England. He is the only British aristocrat to receive the Lenin Prize (the communist equivalent to Nobel Prize) for Peace. He created the game of Table Tennis, which he leveraged in communist China, and he was an agent for the Soviet secret service called GRU.

Marcel Proust wrote "the people from bygone ages seem infinitely remote from us. We look at them as animals in a zoo."
We can see a photograph of Ivor Montagu. He looks remote, other worldly as if he was a character in the Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris coming back from the 1920s every day at midnight. A British movie web site describes Ivor as a "producer, writer and director. Communist, aristocrat, son of the banker Lord Swaythling, the Hon. Ivor Montagu was a leading fixture in left-wing film activity in the 1930s."

In Griffin's book, Ivor Montagu comes out of the metaphoric Proustian zoo of the past. Ivor brother, Ewen, was "a rugby player obsessed with breeding cows... good at pretty everything." But Ivor himself "had the desire, but not the talent to be involved." There was only one game he could play, table tennis. Ping Pong was a Cinderella of the sports blossoming around 1904 in Britain. Quoting Griffin:

"Ninety years ago, Montagu revived a sport that really did fit the best and worst of Communism.
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Format: Hardcover
I’m not quite sure where to begin. This is a story about geopolitics, espionage and table tennis. It wanders from England to Japan, Russia to China and is bound together by the biography of a British aristocrat who produced Hitchcock’s films who happened to be a spy for Stalin. It leads up to the events of 1971 when China and America heal their rift after 22 years of silence. There are hippies, atom bomb survivors, ping-pong playing generals and revolutionaries dotting the pages. Got that? And no, even though the writer has written a lot of fiction, this one’s all true. Definitely the most entertaining, yet serious book I’ve read in a while. What’s it really about? Oh, I’d say it’s really about world peace.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was an eminently engaging and fun read about the confluence of ping pong and world diplomacy mixed with a bit of cold war spying. In "Ping Pong Diplomacy", Griffin peels back the proverbial onion to provide deeper historical context behind the rise of ping pong across the world, driven by an enterprising and wealthy upper class Brit, Ivor Montagu, and in particular in China. As the Chinese communists embrace the sport and see sport through the lens of politics, it ultimately plays a pivotal part in restoring diplomatic relations between US and China through Nixon's historic visit 1972. While the writing could be a little uneven at times, this was an interesting read with great context on the intersection of table tennis, politics and East meets West.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ping Pong Diplomacy was a very interesting read. All I knew about the term beforehand was that something happened with Ping Pong a few years before I was born and then Nixon went to China and soon China will own the US. Surprisingly, the history of modern Ping Pong is far more interesting than I would have thought. And this book gives an excellent incredibly succinct recap of 20th century Chinese history. However, I found that it got a little too ambitious in the last section - too many names, not enough of the gripping details that made up the first three-quarters of the book. Still, a good pop-history read.
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Format: Hardcover
“Ping-Pong Diplomacy” by Nicholas Griffin is a story about a sport that has become many other things besides just an ordinary sporting competition – table tennis aka Ping-Pong has become a link between the West and the East, but at the same time a fierce clash with rackets instead of guns.

In his book Griffin presents less known details about this popular sport that united communist and capitalist world while describing many manipulations and cover-ups which with the help or thanks to this sport were made.
Some of them can be seen at the same time tragic like Chinese authorities cover-up of almost 40 million their people starvation with organization of World Table Tennis Championships but in same time historically very important because this tennis table event was reason for President Nixon to visit China after which it was created the term Ping-Pong.

The book particularly discussed in detail the role of one specific person, Ivor Goldsmid Samuel Montagu, a man who lived incredible life of filmmaker, writer, table tennis player and communist spy, who was a founder of the International Table Tennis Federation and man that can be credited China is today a country with the best table tennis players.

Another nation plays also an important role in this book - the Japanese who due to this sport after humiliation and severe destruction that they have experienced at the end of the Second World War received an opportunity to become again an important player in international relations.
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