Cover image for The meaning of sports : why Americans watch baseball, football, and basketball, and what they see when they do
The meaning of sports : why Americans watch baseball, football, and basketball, and what they see when they do
Mandelbaum, Michael.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Public Affairs, [2004]

Physical Description:
xviii, 332 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV706.5 .M345 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In The Meaning of Sports , Michael Mandelbaum, a sports fan who is also one of the nation's preeminent foreign policy thinkers, examines America's century-long love affair with team sports. In keeping with his reputation for writing about big ideas in an illuminating and graceful way, he shows how sports respond to deep human needs; describes the ways in which baseball, football and basketball became national institutions and how they reached their present forms; and covers the evolution of rules, the rise and fall of the most successful teams, and the historical significance of the most famous and influential figures such as Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi, and Michael Jordan.
Whether he is writing about baseball as the agrarian game, football as similar to warfare, basketball as the embodiment of post-industrial society, or the moral havoc created by baseball's designated hitter rule, Mandelbaum applies the full force of his learning and wit to subjects about which so many Americans care passionately: the games they played in their youth and continue to follow as adults. By offering a fresh and unconventional perspective on these games, The Meaning of Sports makes for fascinating and rewarding reading both for fans and newcomers.

Author Notes

Michael Mandelbaum is the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Project on East-West Relations for the Council on Foreign Relations. Mandelbaum has taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the U.S. Naval Academy.

His book, The New Russian Foreign Policy, explores Russia's relations with the rest of the world after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Dawn of Peace in Europe outlines Europe in the post-cold-war era. His title with Thomas L. Friedman, That Used To Be Us, made The New York Times Best Seller List for 2012.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Of all the sporting contests in the world, baseball, basketball and football are by far the most popular in America: millions of diehard fans dedicate countless hours to following these games on TV, in print and in person. But perhaps few fans know why they are drawn to one sport more than another, or why they feel such a strong affiliation to their favorite. In his ninth book, Mandelbaum applies the same tactical research skills that made him a leading authority on American foreign policy to chronicling the history of the big-three American sports, of the superstars who became household names and of the evolution of the rules of each game. Baseball, which experienced its great rise during America's agrarian stage when the majority of the nation's people lived in rural areas, plays to our longing for the pure, the outdoors, he says. When the country entered its industrial period, and many people worked in factories with extremely specialized jobs, football, a sport in which each player is assigned carefully specialized roles, began to evolve in American schools. Basketball, unlike the other more organic sports, was invented during the post-industrial age. Like the "knowledge workers" of that era-the economists, psychologists and designers-basketball required that athletes bring little equipment to the court. The author parallels each sport's history with the history of our nation, explaining in textbook-like prose why each became popular and endured where other sports did not. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Choice Review

This synthetic examination explores the meaning of three major team sports--baseball, football, and basketball--for the American populace from the 19th century to the present. Mandelbaum (history, Johns Hopkins Univ.) discusses how each sport emerged during a particular point in American history, and underwent transformations along the way to the present. The earliest to emerge, baseball, with its cyclical pace, fit within a traditional society, unfolding from spring training to the mid-season All-Star game to the World Series. Football came of age during the industrial age, becoming "the sport of the machine age" with precise dimensions, the ever-present influence of the clock, and specialization. In contrast to baseball, football continues to be played during inclement weather. The gridiron game is also characterized by its collective nature, deliberate employment of violence, heralding of both particular teams and coaches, and suitability for television. By contrast, basketball, the last of the major American sports to appear, stands as the quintessential post-industrial game, takes place indoors, and readily incorporates innovations. Together, these three sports helped to make "the twentieth century in the United States ... the sports century." ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. R. C. Cottrell California State University, Chico

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. XI
Introductionp. XIII
Chapter 1 A Variety of Religious Experiencep. 1
A Modern Creationp. 1
Diversion and Clarityp. 4
Shining Examplesp. 10
The Rise of Team Sportsp. 16
The Atlantic Gulfp. 26
Chapter 2 Baseball: The Remembrance of Things Pastp. 40
The Traditional Gamep. 40
The Individual's Gamep. 54
The Golden Agep. 63
Artists and Scientistsp. 81
The Silver Agep. 93
Chapter 3 Football: The Spectacle of Violencep. 119
The Industrial Gamep. 119
The War Gamep. 128
The College Gamep. 143
The Coach's Gamep. 163
The Golden Agep. 175
Chapter 4 Basketball: The Chemistry of Teamworkp. 199
The Post-Industrial Gamep. 199
The Generic Gamep. 207
The Latecomerp. 216
The Grass Rootsp. 237
The Golden Agep. 249
Conclusion: The Future of Sportsp. 272
Notesp. 285
Indexp. 321