Customer Reviews: Pétanque: The Greatest Game You Never Heard Of: Beyond Bocce, The Elegant & Intelligent French Game of Boules
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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.
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on October 10, 2011
Wow, long overdue, at last an English language book that gives the history, politics, lessons/hints, equipment, and joy of the game of Petanque. Hopefully this book will allow more people to find out the fun they are missing and more groups of like minded folks to get together and play. Cheers to the author!
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on October 26, 2011
When I started playing petanque in Portland, Oregon, in May of 2010, there was very little training or coaching available. With Putnam's book there is everything you need to help you learn to play and to play well. You open the cover of this book and it feels like Putnam the coach is right there with you. His experience in other sports and his engineering background give tremendous detail and depth unavailable until now. Just for example, how do you decide which boules (balls) to buy for this game? I certainly did not know. In fact, I did not buy any boules until I met Putnam and he helped me with the specifics of various types of boules and which ones would be best for me and my budget. What great advice! Now, you the reader, have this information in your hands once you have his book. It is so detailed that you can even learn to measure your hand and know which size of boule to buy.

It was only after training and practicing with Putnam in his Palm Springs and Lake Oswego Petanque groups that I started to improve my playing skills and realize that I can actually improve and even excel in this sport. I am very excited to have a future in petanque since wear and tear in my rotator cuff are keeping me from playing tennis at my racquet club. Yes, I helped to edit the book, but now that I have read most of the book I realize I have much more to glean from its pages.

Now there truly is an indispensable guide to the sport, its techniques, its terrains, and the development of skills to play petanque well. Now I have shared my petanque experience with my grandchildren and some other children--the future of petanque.
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on June 6, 2012
I initially reviewed this book in June 2012, when I was first learning petanque. It is now May 6, 2013. I have been playing, and using the book, for almost a year, and I am revising my review in light of what I have learned in the last year.

One of the parts of the book that was most useful to me when I was starting out was the explanation of the difference between bocce and petanque. While useful at the time, that tiny tidbit of information now seems to me trivial. In my earlier review, I wished that the book contained more material about how to construct a petanque court (a "terrain"). I no longer have that wish. With more experience, I have come to realized that Putman is right, and that the best petanque is to be had when playing on natural terrains.

As with other reviewers, my first impression of the book was shaped by the introduction and the first chapter. These parts include criticisms of bocce, criticisms of the FPUSA (Federation of Petanque USA), and criticisms of FPUSA clubs for failing to promote a higher level of play. Some other reviewers have criticized this material as "whining" and reduced the number of stars they gave the book. I find the criticisms in those reviews to be rather misleading, for two reasons. First, what seems to others to be "whining" seems to me to be (mostly) simple factual reporting of Putman's experiences. Putnam's reports seem to me realistic because, quite independently, I have had virtually identical experiences. So despite Putman's perhaps over-harsh tone in the early pages of the book, those pages raise valid issues. Second, these parts of the book are not typical of the book as a whole. After Chapter 1, the book's attention is completely devoted to the game itself, and the presentation is calm, clear, and extremely informative.

After Chapter 2 (on strategy and etiquette), chapter 3 examines throwing techniques (basically, what happens to the ball when it is thrown or rolled). Chapter 4 is devoted to throwing mechanics (basically, how to move your body in order to be an effective thrower/player). Chapter 5 is devoted to competition boule selection. Chapter 5 is extremely useful in helping you separate important facts from urban legends when it comes to selecting boules. That chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

The real strength of the book is Chapter 4: throwing mechanics. Chapter 4 discusses the basics of what you should be doing with your body in order to throw effectively, the various movement options you have, and ways to practice effectively. I didn't begin to appreciate the importance or usefulness of this information until after I had been playing for six or eight months. Only after you have been playing for a while do you start to have questions such as: "When I'm throwing with my right hand, what should I be doing with my left hand?" Or "How should I be holding the boule so that I can get some consistency in my pointing and shooting?" When I started having those questions, I went back to the book, and I found the answers there.

I think that as I gain experience, in the future I will have more advanced questions, and I will be able to come back to the book and find the answers. I can see that there is advanced material that, now, is beyond me, but will become relevant and useful as I become more experienced. This is why I think the book deserves 5 stars, and why I think everybody who really wants to learn and play petanque will want to own this book. It has the depth of information that will allow you to come back to it every year or two, study it again, and each time to find something new and useful.

Since the book went to press, two things have changed.
(1) Petanque America has started selling leisure boules, and Putman now recommends the generic boules from Petanque America (as opposed to Playaboule).
(2) The amount of useful information on the Web, about petanque, in English, has improved considerably (google "PETANQUE PORTAL USA").
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on August 31, 2016
This book is a work of comic genius. I was laughing from the first paragraph. Putman's steady jibes at the ex-pat French Petanque community's snobby attitude is hysterical. It reads more or less like good British humor (though Putman is American) of the Jeeves (Wodehouse) or Paddington Bear variety. To be perfectly honest I haven't even tried playing yet but I am loving the book simply on the grounds of the author's humor. It's a page turner. I'd love to play with this guy.

The humorless reviewers who have tweaked Putman for whining seem to have missed what a rare gem this is: an author of a how-to book who establishes a comic persona and then runs with it for the whole book. You're in for a treat!
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on November 3, 2011
I lived in Paris 15 years ago, and used to jog daily through Champs de Mars, adjacent to Le Tour Eiffel. I would see elderly French guys, with gitanes hanging from their lips, tossing steel balls in the open space walkways throughout the park. In over a year I don't recall ever seeing a woman participate. I was intrigued, but never followed up on my curiosity while an ex-pat. During a winter stay in Palm Springs last year I met Byron and Kris, who introduced me to the game. I loved it from the first throw of a boule! I will admit being a Francophile, but you don't need to be to enjoy this game. I grew up playing various sports involving different shaped balls, and have moved into more indurance oriented sports over the years. It is so refreshing and fun to be back in a team oriented game, that allows people of all ages, shapes, genders and abilities to play together, and find a place on the spectrum from very casual and social to highly competitive. I participated in the making of this book, and have thrown and competed with Byron up and down the west coast. His ability to teach, and enthusiasm for the sport have inspired many, and in particular the until now left out demographic in the sport, women. I have read the book cover to cover, and found it to be very informative, with great descriptions on strategy (including great scenario diagrams), terminology, skill building, and etiquette, along with Byron's entertaining wit. Being a techno-geek, I also appreciated the in depth coverage of the various types of boules, and how to choose what is right for you. Don't miss out on the fun. Petanque really is for everyone!
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on October 28, 2011
Yeah, just started! In just two months my wife and I have progressed from inept to mildly un-inept while enjoying every minute of the mystical petanque journey. Byron's seminal book may not take us to stardom immediately but has elevated our play several notches in a very short time. Covering all aspects of the "Petanque Experience", Byron has somehow been able to combine the technical, historical and coaching features into a very entertaining read. If only other "how-to" books were this good.
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on July 18, 2014
This is a good intermediate book for someone who's been introduced to the game and looking to get more information. I thought the sections on throwing technique and boule selection were very useful. This book was a big source of comfort in that it confirmed I was on the right track in making my first competition boule selection.

I was a little disappointed by the overall negative attitude towards existing clubs/organizations. Given that these are mostly run by volunteers, I'd recommend the author not look a gift horse in the mouth! Without commenting on the merits of the author's complaints, it usually makes more sense to help improve existing groups from within rather than tearing them down and starting over. In any event, I don't know there are enough players/volunteers to duplicate existing structures.

In all though, I'm really glad someone took the time and effort to produce a well written, useful book about petanque. It's clear quite a bit of effort went into this and the final product is a high quality manual. I would recommend this to other intermediate players or novices looking to get more involved in the game.
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on September 5, 2016
This is the book I've been looking for! I recently learned to play Petanque during a trip Southern France, and have been starving for more concise, in-depth information. This book is the next best thing to having a coach! Putnam establishes a pedagogy and guide for learning, understanding, and practicing the various skills, tactics, and strategies necessary to better your game. Simply a must have book if you have any interest in improving your game.

Some reviews have responded negatively to Putnam's characterizations of various aspects of the game, but most of those comments are echoes of frustrations I had already heard throughout the community. Some of them I had even heard while in France! Some of his characterizations did not relate to my experience, but if and when I encounter it, I'll be prepared to address it. Others were very insightful, still others humorous, and some even prophetic. All in all, what comes through is his love for the game, and his frustration over the various obstacles that tend to plague many organizations. Overall, I thought his comments simply added perspective.

This is an invaluable book for becoming a better player. I refer to it often and have already referred it to other players as the current "textbook" for Petanque. I only hope more English speaking players come forward and share their love and knowledge of the game, either by translation of current foreign texts or by writing new works, so we may have and enjoy additional english language resources like this. With Petanque potentially heading to the 2024 Olympics, I'd love to see the evangelization efforts continue!!
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on June 7, 2013
I immediately read this guide to petanque cover to cover, and now that I've started playing, I go back to re-read parts. Some other reviewers complained about his abrasive writing style, but I love that. He's straightforward and not afraid to criticize, and his comments ring true to me.
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