The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game

Overview

Anthropologist John Fox sets off on a worldwide adventure to thefarthest reaches of the globe and the deepest recesses of our ancientpast to answer a question inspired by his sports-loving son:

"Why do we play ball?"

From Mexican jungles to the small-town gridirons of Ohio, frommedieval villages and royal courts to modern soccer pitches andbaseball parks, The Ball explores the little-known origins ofour favorite sports across the centuries, and traces how a simpleinvention like ...

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Overview

Anthropologist John Fox sets off on a worldwide adventure to thefarthest reaches of the globe and the deepest recesses of our ancientpast to answer a question inspired by his sports-loving son:

"Why do we play ball?"

From Mexican jungles to the small-town gridirons of Ohio, frommedieval villages and royal courts to modern soccer pitches andbaseball parks, The Ball explores the little-known origins ofour favorite sports across the centuries, and traces how a simpleinvention like the ball has come to stake an unrivaled claim on ourpassions, our money, and our lives. Equal parts history and travelogue,The Ball removes us from the scandals and commercialism of today'ssports world to uncover the true reasons we play ball, helping us reclaimour universal connection to the games we love.

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Editorial Reviews

Frank DeFord
“Anybody who has ever thrown, caught, bounced, hit (or whiffed) a ball will mightilyenjoy John Fox’s stories of where all these balls came from, and why, from our earliestdays, they have been such an integral part of the very fun that makes us human.”
Will Blythe
“[In THE BALL], a realm of behavior that we take for granted is seen anew in all of its original strangeness. The ball itself—whether made of grass and beeswax, opossum pelts, kangaroo scrotums or seal hides—is depicted freshly as an extraordinary invention of human happiness.”
William Landay
“John Fox is equal parts historian, anthropologist, world traveler, sports nut, and storyteller. The Ball is a fascinating exploration not just of the games we play but why we play them—of what our ballgames tell us about ourselves.”
Wired
“John Fox is dauntless…The Ball is a fascinating read that – like a good ball game – is both compelling and fun.”
New York Post
“A fun and anecdotal new book…which uses the evolution of the ball itself to trace mankind’s progress from prehistory through ancient Egypt and gladiatorial Rome to the births of modern sports like tennis and “base-ball.”
Booklist
“In tracing the fascinating history of ball games — from the primal contests between prehistoric tribes playing with stuffed balls of grass, to the hypercommercialized violence of twenty-first-century Super Bowls — readers witness the evolution of more than just sports…A book for fans and scholars alike!”
Kirkus Reviews
An anthropologist and freelance journalist debuts with a peripatetic analysis of our ball games--where they came from, how they evolved and why we love them. Fox darts around the globe to show us the origins of our games. Locales include Ecuador, the Orkneys, France, Mexico, Onondaga, N.Y., Newbury and Springfield, Mass., and Ada, Ohio. In a mostly chronological fashion, the author reveals a variety of odd, amusing and even horrifying facts. Dolphins prefer balls to any other toys; Galen loved the popular Roman game of harpastum, a roughhouse contest; the Mayan game of ulama, a soccer-like competition with a much heavier ball advanced by hitting it with the hips, sometimes cost the losers their lives. In the Orkneys Fox witnessed a violent street game, the Kirkwall Ba', that divides the town, as many as a hundred on a side, a contest that continues until a side wins. Bruises, blood, broken bones--all are part of the action. The author played the medieval game of indoor tennis, teaching us about the origins of tennis terms like "love." He also explored the New World games of lacrosse, baseball, football and basketball. He dismisses legends (Abner Doubleday), confirms truths (James Naismith and basketball), participates as well as observes and teaches us how all sorts of balls were and are made. Occasionally, he speculates about the significance of it all--did our ability for language develop because we figured out how to throw? Sometimes he pontificates: "We play, therefore we are." The accounts of the ancient games engage more than the recent ones. The conclusions don't surprise, but crackerjack reporting crackles throughout.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061881794
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/15/2012
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 453,393
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

John Fox has excavated ancient ball courtsin Central America, traced Marco Polo's route acrossChina, and bicycled Africa's Rift Valley in search ofhuman origins. He has contributed commentary to VermontPublic Radio as well as Smithsonian, Outside, andSalon, among other publications. He lives in Boston.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Warm-up 1

1 Play Ball 13

2 From Skirmish to Scrum 48

3 Advantage, King 80

4 Sudden Death in the New World 112

5 The Creator's Game 141

6 Home, with Joy 174

7 Played in America 216

8 Nothing New Under the Sun 267

Epilogue: Back to Basics 317

Acknowledgments 329

Notes 333

Selected Bibliography 347

Illustration Credits 355

Index 359

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