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The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do Hardcover – June 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (June 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482521
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482527
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"A scholarly yet readable study of why Americans watch so much baseball, football, and basketball." -- USA Today

"If Alexis de Tocqueville were to . . . write a book about U.S. sport, this would be the book." -- The Financial Times

"Michael Mandelbaum has turned his fine eye and keen intellect toward sports -- and shown us why they matter." -- Michael Shapiro, author of The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together

"So that's why we sports fans are so devoted. Thank you, Michael Mandelbaum, for your dazzling and witty insight." -- Lynn Sherr, ABC News 20/20, author of America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song

"Some insightful explanations for why we care so much about sweaty men (and women) playing games." -- Sportsillustrated.com

"Sports fans will find this fascinating; others...will find a deeper appreciation and understanding of the dynamics of sports." -- Dallas Morning News August 8, 2004

"This is a great account of how and why sports have become so popular and important in America." -- Robert Kraft, owner of The New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI and XXXVIII Champions

More About the Author

Michael Mandelbaum is the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. and is the director of the American Foreign Policy Program there. He has also held teaching posts at Harvard and Columbia Universities, and at the United States Naval Academy.

His most recent book, written with co-author Thomas L. Friedman, is THAT USED TO BE US: HOW AMERICA FELL BEHIND IN THE WORLD IT INVENTED AND HOW WE CAN COME BACK. Its publication date is September 5, 2011.

He serves on the board of advisors of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington-based organization sponsoring research and public discussion on American policy toward the Middle East.

A graduate of Yale College, Professor Mandelbaum earned his Master's degree at King's College, Cambridge University and his doctorate at Harvard University.

Professor Mandelbaum is the author or co-author of numerous articles and of 13 books: That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (2011) with co-author Thomas L. Friedman; The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era (2010); Democracy's Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World's Most Popular Form of Government (2007); The Case For Goliath: How America Acts As The World's Government in the Twenty-first Century (2006); The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football and Basketball and What They See When They Do (2004); The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century (2002); The Dawn of Peace in Europe (1996); The Fate of Nations: The Search for National Security in the 19th and 20th Centuries (1988); The Global Rivals, (co-author, 1988); Reagan and Gorbachev (co-author, 1987); The Nuclear Future (1983); The Nuclear Revolution: International Politics Before and After Hiroshima (1981); and The Nuclear Question: The United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1946-1976 (1979). He is also the editor of twelve books.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on June 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Michael Mandelbaum is not a sports writer. He's part of the Washington foreign policy establishment and a professor of International studies at Johns Hopkins University. So, while he is an academic he's neither an anthropologist nor a social historian. He is, obviously, an ardent sports fan. Knowing these facts helps to understand both why this book works and why it fails.
The book works superbly as an historical analysis. Even dedicated sports fans of the Big Three (football, baseball and basketball) will learn quite a bit about the development of their favorite sports as well as about the titans of the games that whose accomplishments fueled their growth. He also provides some interesting and unique insights as to turning points in the history of each sport and how the vortex of those turning points was so similar. For example, Ruth in baseball, Rockne in football and Hank Lusetti in basketball all provided an elevation point for their respective sports both by providing dramatic, interesting, charismatic personalities but also through feats that made the ball easy to see in dramatic fashion (Ruth with the towering home run, Rockne by popularizing the forward pass, Lusetti in inventing the jump shot).
The book is far less successful as a vehicle of social analysis. Mandelbaum uses allusion a lot as a means for evoking the social meaning of sport. I'm not aware that allusion is a key too of either social science in general or anthropology in particular. A comparative analysis that juxtaposes baseball with agrarian values, football with industrial and martial values and basketball with spectacularly ill defined "post industrial" values may have some illustrative value but fails as an analytical tool.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Michael Mandelbaum, who happens to be one of the country's leading experts on international politics, offers here a beautiful written, engaging account of the history of America's three major sports: baseball, football, and basketball. Sports enthusiasts will love this book, but so will those--like me--who have only a passing interest in sports, or none at all, for Mandelbaum not only tells us about the colorful personalities and defining moments of American sports; he shows us how sports shaped who we are as a people. There is an abundance of wit, wisdom, and insight in this book, and the prose is so elegant and effortless that the pages turn (all too) rapidly. Buy this book. You'll be swept away. Great for summer reading and likely to become a classic.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What a wonderful and unique addition to the world of sports publishing. Not only are there facts galore that educate even a highly knowledgeable sports fan, the insights and analysis are unparrelled. I could not put it down.
This amazing book by Professore Mandelbaum can be read on many levels (far more than I can probably grasp) and yet it appears approachable by anyone; be they sports fan, someone who questions why sports are important in our society, and even those looking for lessons on how to lead people or manage a business.
The contrasting of baseball, football and basketball provides a fascinating window on why we Americans are who we are today and how we got here. The interlacing of history with observations about how people operate in our society and within organizations is really amazing.
We love our football in Texas and Mandelbaum is right on in his analysis about football in every sense. He hits the mark on baseball and basketball as well. This book really makes you think, but gives so much in return that you come away feeling as though you just had a wonderful meal for your mind. I now enjoy watching sports more than I did before reading The Meaning of Sports.
I am going to read it again.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book for its beautiful writing, the clarity of the author's thinking, and the way it showed me why people love sports. I've given it to my father, a big time sports fan, who adored it, and my grandmother, who has lived with a sports fan for more than 60 years, and she loved it, too. Whether you love sports or don't understand what the big deal is, this is a great read, pure pleasure. You'll learn a lot whether you started at zero or were very knowledgable to begin with. A great book by a great writer.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant book. I recommend it wholeheartedly to any sports fan, as well as to anyone who isn't a fan. It is a pleasure to read and you'll learn a lot about the culture of the United States, about human nature and about why people love sports. Beautifully written, as well. A great mind applied to a great topic.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Blaine on April 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mandelbaum's work teaches us all.

Michael Mandelbaum's The Meaning of Sports lived up to all of the expectations I had for it. It captured my attention with facts about my minds blurred past of sports. The way he breaks down each mjor individual sport and relates them to the major periods and times of our world was intriging. I would suggest this book to any non sports fan who cannot see why the rest of us are in love with these great games and memorable moments because you will learn a lot. Also, I would reccomend this book to every sports fan becuase no matter how knowledgeable you are about each and every sport, you too will learn something and will also walk away with a better appreciation and love for these games.
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