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Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition Hardcover – May 4, 2010

3.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dave Barry Reviews Sports from Hell

Dave Barry is a humor columnist. For 25 years he was a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad. In 1988 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Many people are still trying to figure out how this happened. Dave has also written a total of 30 books, although virtually none of them contain useful information. Two of his books were used as the basis for the CBS TV sitcom Dave's World, in which Harry Anderson played a much taller version of Dave. Dave lives in Miami, Florida, with his wife, Michelle, a sportswriter. He has a son, Rob, and a daughter, Sophie, neither of whom thinks he's funny. His new book I'll Mature When I'm Dead will be published in May 2010. Read his review of Sports from Hell:

When you rank the greatest sportswriters in the world today, one name stands alone at the top of the list.

But this review is not about him. This review is about Rick Reilly, and his excellent new book: Sports from Hell (long subtitle alert): My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition. Not only is it hilarious, but it also raises some important questions, the main one being: Reilly got paid for this?

Yes, he did, and I applaud him for it, especially if he also claimed his expenses as tax deductions. And there were a lot of expenses, because to write this book Reilly roamed the globe in a two-year quest to find the world's most idiotic sports.

"Wait a minute," I hear you saying. "If he was looking for idiotic sports, why didn't he just stay in America and write about professional lawn-mower racing?"

Because in the pantheon of international sports stupidity, lawn mower-racing is nothing. Reilly found sports that make professional lawn-mower racing look like the Indianapolis 500. The World Sauna Championships, for example. This is a competition held in Heinola, Finland involving saunas set to 261 degrees, which is basically your daytime high temperature on Mercury. Reilly was able to sit in one of those saunas for four minutes before his fillings started to melt. The winner made it 13 minutes, emerging victoriously to raise the stumps of his hands in triumph while Finnish firemen extinguished him.

Among the other highly entertaining, if not uplifting, sports that Reilly participated in were: ferret-legging, in which contestants put a live ferret down their pants and see how long they can keep it there without qualifying for a completely new section of the choir, if you get my drift; women's professional football (I don’t want to ruin it for you, but their idea of "holding" is entirely different than ours); and Australian nude bicycle-racing, one of the few sports in which you run the risk of Death By Chafing. (Warning to Australian citizens: Reilly's bike was rented.)

My point is, if you enjoy--And who doesn't?--reading about other people’s pain, then you are going to love Sports from Hell. It's the wittiest sports book out there. And if you don't agree, you don't know wit from Heinola.




Look Inside Sports from Hell

(Click to Enlarge)

Bull Poker:
The inmates of Angola (La.) State Prison engage in a healthy use of taxpayer money with a game of Bull Poker. The last man to jump out of his chair and flee the scene as the bull smashes the table is not just the winner of the jackpot but also separated from his pancreas at no extra charge.
Chess Boxing Friends:
In this deliciously dumb mishmash, Reilly observes that the best strategy is to play chess slow and box fast.
Rock, Paper, Scissors:
Reilly faces a momentary setback in Round One of the intensely strategic Rock-Paper-Scissors championship held annually in Toronto. There were injuries.
Sauna:
Reilly emerges--not victoriously but still alive--from a 261°F sauna after lasting 3 minutes and 10 seconds in the World Sauna Championships in Finland.

(Dave Barry photo © The Miami Herald, Sports photos © Cynthia "TLC" Reilly)


From Booklist

It’s always good when sports kookiness happens and Rick Reilly is there to cover it—and sometimes even join in. Fancy two ferrets running loose in your underwear-less sweatpants? Or playing chicken in a 264-degree sauna? Or risking life and limb on a three-mile-long (par 19) golf hole that starts on a scruffy, rattler-laden New Mexico mountaintop? Better Reilly than us. But since these are the “dumbest” and not just the most dangerous competitions, Reilly also includes baseball (huh?), nude bicycling, chess boxing, a drinking game whose winner is determined by the color and texture of his vomit, and bull poker, in which four prisoners (voluntarily) sit at a card table in the middle of a rodeo ring while an insanely angry bull charges them—the last prisoner to bolt from the table is the “winner.” Reilly brings his patented one-liner shtick to the proceedings, much of it LOL, some of it painfully old boy. But he knows and delivers a good story when he sees it, and beneath all the goofiness, readers can’t help but be touched by the sheer ingenuity of many of these games and the sheer courage of many of the participants. These 13 pieces are previously unpublished, all the more reason readers will be attracted to them. --Alan Moores
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday/ESPN Books; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514385
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #760,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read Mr. Reilly's column in the back of SI for years, and really enjoyed it. So when I saw this book in the store, I was more than happy to pick it up.

Big mistake.

As much as I like offbeat sports (my siblings and I would create our own growing up), this book was just... bad. Very uninteresting. I felt like it was written just to throw something together. Mr. Reilly's writing did not feel like it had heart.

I hope, for his sake, he continues to write his columns, and find a different topic in the future to explore.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a big fan of Rick Reilly so I bought this book with high anticipation. I would certainly rate this book with 5 stars if the criteria was how many times I laughed out loud during the read. I would give it 3 stars for content - meaning that I found some of these "sports" to be entirely too contrived. It was like Rick decided to write about some crazy sports and then couldn't find enough material to write about. That being said, I'll still buy his next book...whatever it is.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought the book was uneven. Calling Rock-Paper-Scissor a sport is a bit of a stretch; same for the ferret legging. Chess boxing and Homeless Soccer, sure.

But to put all of these asinine and esoteric competitions in the same book as America's pastime is what makes the book reading. Until that point, that is. After hearing Reilly effectively and elegantly some of the more incomprehensible apocrypha of baseball, the rest of the book is just filler. But I guess it's a necessary evil.

Recommended audience? Sports fans who aren't afraid to laugh at themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
After 31 years of conventional sports reporting, Rick Reilly sets out on a global journey to find the stupidest sport in the world. Entries include a three-mile golf hole down a mountain full of explosives (Socorro, N.M.), the World Sauna Championship(Finland), the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships, the World Beer Pong Championships, chess boxing (alternate 6 rounds of chess - 4 minutes each, with 5 rounds of boxing - 3 minutes each) - whomever is knocked out or checkmated first loses, nude biking, homeless soccer, etc. Explicitly excluded were 'tourist bait' activities, non-sports (eg. 'Extreme Ironing'), and obviously stupid or overly dangerous activities. Unfortunately, neither the backgrounds nor the actual contests were funny - Reilly should have stuck to conventional sports.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Reilly ought to stick to legitimate sports writing at which he does a better job. I'm not a big fan of his over-clever style in any case, but this book is just tedious. Save your money and read about ferret-in-the-pants on line.
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Format: Hardcover
I question the sense of humor of those who panned this book. I generally like Rick Reilly's columns, but I'm not a huge fan. I had heard the NPR story on this book, and it sounded mildly amusing, so I decided to read it. I thought it was hilarious! The "sports" about which he writes are humourous enough, but it was Rick's writing style that made the book. He is clever and funny with just the right amount of snark. I have been reading the book out loud to my wife, who is not a sports fan in the least but is a fine writer, and she similarly commented on the high quality of the writing. I would definitely recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading a book about "dumb" sports written by a much respected sports reporter (an eleven-time American Sports Writer of the Year) seemed to be a good idea. I had hoped I would find humor contained in its pages, it provided humor AND fun in abundance. Locating such a book in the 50% off bin at one of my dealers (Wyndee, the love of my live and holder of my heart used my coupon for that month, I am such a giving person) made the purchase an easy choice.
Mr. Reilly had eight rules in order for a sport to qualify for this book (and his participation):
1. It had to be a real sport - it had to be taken seriously by those who played it.
2. It could not be stupid for the sake of being stupid.
3. It could not exist mainly as tourist bait.
4. Mr. Reilly had to actually watch people participate (he took part in most of the sports).
5. It could not be slightly famous
6. He did not want to die covering it.
7. It could not have been something he had already covered professionally.
8. It had to at least resemble a sport.

Some of the sports were, by every definition, stupid, like Ferret Legging - wherein the participants put live, meat-eating ferrets down their cuff-sealed pants. The "winner" was the one who could stand the animal in such conditions the longest. Others were sublimely stupid, such as the World Sauna Sitting Championships - the person who can sit in a Sauna heated to 236 degrees the longest wins (a person died in the 2010 event). Some, however, were added just for fun - Baseball, I'll let the reader try to figure out the rules of THAT sport.

The book was written with sports fans in mind but anyone who enjoys humor, a good story, tales of travel and adventure or who likes the bizarre, would connect with this writing. Mr.
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Format: Paperback
There's two reasons why I subscribed to Sports Illustrated when I was in college. The Leading Off section of sports pics (I'm a photographer and I love sports, so that one's kinda obvi) and Rick Reilly's weekly column on the last page. While he has since moved to ESPN (don't worry SI, I still subscribe to your magazine), his columns have me laughing, thinking and sometimes even tearing up. He's an incredible writer. It's no wonder he's been voted Sports Writer of the Year 11 times. I remember enjoying The Life of Reilly: The Best of Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly and when I found out about his recent book Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Most Outrageous Competition, I knew I would be in for some good laughs.

Between chess boxing and ferrets down your pants, I'm not sure which one wins, but I did chuckle (quite a bit) when I turned to chapter 10, titled Baseball. You can't beat this quote: "Baseball is so crushingly boring you would sooner stick forks in your eyes than see another zoom shot of Andy Pettitte's nostrils."

Who knew Rick Reilly hated baseball so much?

Overall, I had some good laughs at his descriptions of really strange/awkward sports, his participation in most of them and his interactions with the fans. But even with all the crazy, he still learned that maybe there is something to the passion people have for sports, even if they are a little outrageous.
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