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A People's History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play (New Press People's History) Hardcover – September 1, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Zirin (What's My Name, Fool!), writer of a politically minded online sports column, examines the intersection of sports and politics, chronicling the struggles of America's oppressed, starting with Choctaws playing lacrosse and slaves in the South, and reaching all the way to a critique of Michael Jordan as an apolitical athlete. There are many worthy and deserving stories of courage and conscience in this vast canvas; however, the telling suffers from Zirin's term paper–like prose that relies far too much on overly long quotes from source material. For example, three pages about NFL player Dave Meggyesy has a short introductory paragraph by Zirin and then excerpts Meggyesy's autobiography for the bulk of the section. This book would have been more engaging and logically organized as a reference book with entries on each athlete or group, rather than a linear historical narrative of sports. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This account by blogger Zirin (edgeofsports.com) is not really a “people’s history” so much as it is a 250-year chronicle of the nexus between sports and politics in America. True to its blog roots, the book has a casualness to it (Zirin details the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for example, without naming the crime for which they were convicted), yet the author has done his legwork (and cites sources). More important, he shows how powerfully sports and politics, with a touch of class warfare, have interacted over the centuries, much to the denial of both sides that there’s any connection. Most of the story, unsurprisingly, takes place after the Civil War, with Zirin tracing the development of the major sports in the context of the political events of their times. Emphasis is given to the sixties, particularly Muhammad Ali’s role in the advancement of racial equality. A thought-provoking, contrarian take on American sport. --Alan Moores

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Product Details

  • Series: New Press People's History
  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; Not Indicated edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595581006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595581006
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #424,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Games are never just games. Even when children play, they are mastering the skills and cultural messages they will need to become successful adults. Yet in America, we cling to a cultural myth that sports are apolitical. We have the news channel CNN and the sports channel ESPN, and they are supposed to be entirely separate and distinct.

In this enlightening book, sportswriter Dave Zirin debunks this myth, exposing the politics, business interests, and cultural forces that have shaped modern sports. Zirin traces the history of sports from the lacrosse-playing days of the Choctaw Indians all the way to the modern steroid scandals and the behind-the-scenes politics of the international Olympic Games. Throughout, he focuses on how race-related conflicts have helped to shape modern athletics.

The host of a popular blog called "The Edge of Sports" (edgeofsports.com) and a regular contributor to the L.A. Times and the Nation magazine, Zirin has an engaging style that will appeal to sports fans, history buffs, and anyone else who wants their eyes opened. The favorable reviews and high sales certainly suggest that this book will help reduce the myth of sports as apolitical. (See the publisher's website, newpress.com, for links to recent publicity, which includes a favorable plug in Time Magazine.) Author Jeff Chang promises that after reading this book "you'll never see sports the same way again"; author Jim Bouton (Ball Four) goes even further by predicting that this is "the opening shot in the battle to reclaim sports."

Not only is the book enlightening, it is also a fun read full of engaging stories that you can share with friends and family while you are waiting for the game to begin.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a sports fan and someone who cares about the politics of social change. This book brought these worlds together in a way that has me rethinking how I understand both the history of sports and the history of the United States. Each story told might be worth its own book but I will take with me the stories of Moses Fleetwood Walker, the African American baseball player in the 19th century who saw his career die with the end of reconstruction, and the way the famed US women's soccer team threatened to strike in 1996 - on the advice of Billie Jean King - for equal pay. This is a must read - an antidote to the narrow politics of election season.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have long appreciated Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States since I was first exposed to it. I have also been an avid reader of Dave Zirin's columns and books, with its emphasis on sports and politics in America. Unfortunately, there is little relationship between the concept of a "people's history" and Zirin's account of sports. Moreover, while this is something of a history it is overwhelmingly focused on the post-World War II intersection of sports and politics, with something about class warfare but never quite enough. He emphasizes the 1960s and 1970s and discusses the icons of the era such as Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, and John Carlos and Tommie Smith.

At some level this is more of a counter narrative to the dominant reverence for sports and sporting figures in the United States. It takes aims at the ruling elite in sports and their shortsightedness. There is quite a lot about labor relations, race relations, and other assorted divisive issues. This is a relatively straightforward short introduction to the subject, but there is little here that gets below a surface discussion. There is considerable overlap with what is contained in this book and what Zirin has to say about these same subjects in other books that he has written, especially "Bad Sports" (2010) and "Welcome to the Terrordome" (2007).

This book is interesting, and certainly worth reading, but there are other issues that deserve serious consideration not covered here in any appropriate manner. These include subjects of class, ethnic identity, immigration, and the like. There is also considerably more to be delved into concerning the race and labor issues that Zirin does explore. As it is, this book is a useful introduction to a counter history of sports in America.
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Format: Hardcover
Sports fans will find tales of the true origins of the modern games we hold so dear, and history buffs will discover the connection - sometimes wonderful, sometimes nefarious, sometimes BOTH - between politics and sports. For those who love sports, AND for those who don't, this book will be an eye-opener. A brisk, page-turning book... and FUN to read!
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Format: Paperback
Dave Zirin's offering in the "People's History" series (sparked by Howard Zinn's landmark "A People's History of the United States") provides a quick skim through the American sports scene as it intersects with politics. This is a clever, often thought-provoking book that reminds the reader that American sport has had a long, often ugly, growing process as it has evolved into its current form (that Zirin would likely summarize as The Age of Greed).

First, the good stuff. This is a fast-paced, well-researched book that hits on many of the highlights of the bygone American sports scene. Perhaps the best portions of the book focus on the now-faded sport of boxing. If you've ever heard the (terrible) joke about how the lower on the socio-economic ladder you go, the better the boxer you are, you will appreciate learning about the national political importance of figures such as Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. We also see the painful evolution of the athlete as a political figure as Jackie Robinson struggles to be the stoic exemplar of patience when he wanted nothing more than to break noses or when Jesse Owens returns from the Berlin Olympics to an America that refused to give him a decent job, just because of his skin. If you need a reminder of how ugly American racism has been, the sections on the difficult integration of college sports teams bring it to you in full, vibrant nastiness.

Zirin does not limit his book to racial injustice - the book also provides a helpful reminder of the struggle women had to fight just to be able to play on the same field. Women's tennis plays a huge role, as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova play tremendous roles in changing American attitudes.
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