Cover image for Sports : an illustrated history
Sports : an illustrated history
McComb, David G.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
139 pages : illustrations (some color), map ; 29 cm
Surveys the history of athletic competition from the time of ancient civilizations through the twentieth century.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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GV571 .M35 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
GV571 .M35 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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Sports are such an integral part of human culture that it is hard to imagine a newspaper without a sports section or a television news program without a sports commentator. Sports have become a multinational megabusiness. Professional athletes are paid enormous sums of money and fans proudlywear the jerseys of their heroes. Cities risk bankruptcy to construct stadiums and nations subsidize athletes to carry their colors in international competition. Major sporting events draw record numbers of TV viewers and electrify sports enthusiasts from every walk of life, income bracket, andethnic identity. Athletic competition may be as old as humankind. Throughout history, sports have exerted a forceful influence on almost every facet of life, from politics and war, through culture and the arts, and on to issues that literally concern life and death. The ancient Greeks, by universal accord, ceasedall wartime activities for the duration of the Olympic games, while historians believe that players of the ancient Mexican game "ollama" may have been executed at the end of each competition. Sports: An Illustrated History is an engrossing and lively account of the evolution of sports through various civilizations around the world. Historian David McComb uses sports history as a window into world history and society. This lavishly illustrated volume is not limited to the sports we knowwell and often play in our backyards, on school teams, or playgrounds. McComb describes the ball games of Mesoamerica, Sumo wrestling in Japan, martial arts in China, wrestling in ancient Egypt, the Olympic Games of classical Greece, and the gladiator fights in ancient Rome. He brings to lifemedieval tournaments and peasant ballgames, tracing the roots of modern sports. The histories of cricket, soccer, rugby, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, bicycle racing, skiing, and other contemporary sports are covered in depth. The author introduces us to the greatest sports personalities over the centuries: legendary Greek wrestler Milo of Croton,decathlete and baseball player Jim Thorpe, mile-runner Roger Bannister, soccer magician Pele, boxing champ Muhammad Ali, tennis great Billie Jean King, and many others. Woven into the narration are stories about the role of women in athletic competition, the participation of African Americans andother minorities in sports, violence in sports, media coverage, and the sharpening distinction between professional and amateur sports. Following the thread of McComb's fascinating narrative, we visit the great stadiums of the world, become familiar with the strongest and fastest athletes, visitwith championship teams, and learn how and why the international sports organizations and competitions were put together. The book concludes with a discussion of the growth of international competition and the modern Olympics.

Author Notes

David G. McComb is professor of history at Colorado State University, where he teaches sports history. He holds an M.A. from Rice University, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of over 100 articles and several books, including Texas: An Illustrated History (Oxford University Press, 1995). He competed in age-group swimming in junior high school, high school, college, and at the master's level, cementing his life-long interest in sports--both as a participant and a spectator. Like many of us, David McComb reads the sports pages first.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. This encyclopedic look at sports from antiquity to modern times treats the subject as an integral part of world culture. Following a dry and thankfully brief introduction, sports historian McComb unfolds a thoughtful chronology of games--both gory and genteel--and discusses the society each game reflects. He provides enough sports lore to interest fans while connecting the playing fields to broader themes of politics, technology, and the role of women. He describes, for instance, how the Industrial Revolution expanded leisure time and how table tennis paved the way for Nixon's trip to China. Spicing up this big-picture approach are sidebars on such athletes as Babe Didrikson, whose impact extended beyond track events. Design is the one element that mars an otherwise fine book. There are plenty of illustrations, but the typeface is small, and there are no subheads to break up the long chapters or guide researchers to their topics. These shortcomings make the book less reader friendly but, fortunately, no less valuable. Chronology; bibliography. --Randy Meyer

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-It seems that for every student who chooses sports as a term-paper topic, there is a teacher urging him/her to relate the subject to broader issues. This book is an excellent tool for helping students do just that. It examines the ways in which sport has, at various times, intermingled with religion, politics, nationalism, and terrorism and warfare. It demonstrates that while it has been used to foster democratic ideals, it has just as often been used to impose the customs and values of a conquering people on its subjects; that it has been a vehicle for the promotion of both racial equality and racist ideology; and that it has appealed to our highest sentiments as well as our basest emotions. McComb examines these issues in a thoughtful, balanced manner, eschewing easy, conventional interpretation. He admits, for example, that the meaning and purpose of sport in human history is difficult to determine and that it is not always legitimate to assume that sports reveal something significant about the character of the society in which they are played. Of particular interest are those sections dealing with the politicization of the Olympics, and with the influence a subset of the leisure class known as "the fancy" on late 19th-century sport. While the one-page epilogue does not do justice to the issues raised throughout the book, the overall quality of the information presented should ensure a spot for this title in every library that serves young adults.-Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction What Is Sport?p. 9
Chapter 1 The World of Traditional Sport and Early Civilizationsp. 13
Chapter 2 Greek and Roman Athleticsp. 27
Chapter 3 The Sports of Early Western Civilizationp. 41
Chapter 4 The Sports of Empirep. 57
Chapter 5 Participants and Sportsp. 75
Chapter 6 The Great Spectator Sports of North Americap. 89
Chapter 7 The World of Sportsp. 113
Epiloguep. 129
Chronologyp. 130
Further Readingp. 132
Indexp. 136