Top critical review
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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, not necessarily in that order.
on August 17, 2012
I enjoy both bocce and petanque as a casual player, and was eager to learn how to improve my game. I'm very glad I found this book, but I'm even more glad I didn't find it as a rank novice, or it would have turned me off from all types of boules entirely! Parts of the book should rank 5 stars, and other parts should rank zero stars. Let's take the worst, first ...
The Bad and the Ugly: The title of this book as it is currently edited really ought to be "Petulant: The Greatest Whine You'll Ever Read." While others may write of the joy of their favorite sports, Mr. Putman spends far too many pages writing on the "Misery of Petanque." From the very beginning, the author whines about how he failed to be accepted by French immigrant/expat communities in the US, whines about how he failed to engage the sport's governing body in the US, whines about how that body is failing in its duties, whines about how he first failed to interest his friends and family in the game, or whines about how he failed to be interested by other forms of boules, such as bocce. While most of the offending material is in the front of the book and can easily be skipped over, the author cannot but help to snipe and slip in the occasional negative comment, like some useless nag. And while we learn why he thinks petanque is the best game ever, hardly any of the joy of the game itself is communicated to the reader - at least not without being tainted by further whining about the aforementioned topics. If I had read this as a rank novice, I would have likely lost all interest in boules in general, and petanque in particular. Are we meant to have fun, or enlist in a campaign?
(Pro-tips: When writing a book whose object is to sell a game to a potential market of about 300 million Americans, it's generally considered a bad idea to insult them by broadly painting them as being so uncultured as to be uninterested in any sport that doesn't involve cheerleaders or beer sponsorships, no matter how much you may believe it to be true. Also, before complaining about someone else's book devoting a significant portion of its content to court design, try to see the potential irony in similarly devoting a significant portion of your own book - no matter how justified or well written - to ball choice. In that vein, if you happen to prefer one form of boules over another, it's much more edifying to read why you like the one you like, not why you think the other is deficient: De gustibus non est disputandum, so try at least to depict yours without reference to the other; to build yours up without comparing and tearing the other down. Your readers can make their own comparisons and judgements based upon their own tastes.)
So why buy this book at all? Read on ...
The Good: Mr. Putman has done much, much more than channel his obvious enthusiasm for this delightful game into incessant whining and carping. He has clearly devoted his energies to a study of the sport in all its aspects, and it is here the book truly shines. Strategy, tactics, kinesiology, techniques, and equipment; all are treated brilliantly and in great detail by the author, while being related in a way that's easy to comprehend with wonderful diagrams. This *alone* would be worth the price of the book. It's in these sections where the author sets himself aside, takes himself out of the picture, that the game gets to speak for itself through him. Any reader who makes a diligent study of these sections and puts in the practice time should surely see significant improvements in his or her game. I cannot imagine a better treatment. Very well done, indeed!
Recommendations: If you've never played petanque, but are interested in learning more about the sport, I'd save my money and learn more first from the various petanque websites, or from youtube - you'll get a better sense of the game without having to contend with all of the author's negative baggage. If you've played and want to improve your game (and who wouldn't?), there isn't a better English language book available. Actually, there isn't any other English language book available at all, but it's hard to imagine a better job being done than what you'll find in those particular sections. And if you're the author, I sincerely hope you'll consider publishing a 2nd edition of the book, only edited to remove the accounts of your bittersweet heroic struggles as the greatly misunderstood evangelist of petanque, and all the other negative commentary and impertinent, irrelevant comparisons. What you hope to change about the governance of the sport in America will likely happen naturally, but let's have fun in the meantime. That's the whole point of boules, isn't it? Having fun? You have an otherwise excellent book, and the joy of petanque ought to be allowed to shine through ... untarnished and on its own.