A collection of essays about the most influential Jews in sports history.
New Republic editor Foer (How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, 2005) and New Republic staff writer Tracy present a diverse collection of Jewish athletes celebrated by Jewish authors. Many of the 50 athletes included—e.g., Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Sid Luckman, Mark Spitz—will be familiar even to non-Jewish sports fans, while others—table-tennis star Marty Reisman, Nazi-era German fencing champ Helene Mayer, kung-fu instructor Harvey Sober and “the Ben Franklin of Competitive Eating,” Don Lerman—will not. The list of contributors is also distinguished, with several Pulitzer Prize winners, Ivy League professors, novelists and even former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The essays range from standard profiles to personal reminiscences. Most, but not all, of the athletes are American. In addition to Joshua Cohen’s piece on Mayer, there is Simon Schama’s fascinating essay about English pugilist Daniel Mendoza, David Bezmozgis’ profile of Soviet strongman Grigory Novak and Timothy Snyder’s piece on Austro-Hungarian author Max Nordau, whose speech to the 1898 Second Zionist Congress called on Jews to develop their muscles to overcome weakness. This theme of athleticism counteracting the stereotype of the Jew as weak victim runs through many of the essays, though it may be slightly undermined by the application of the “jock” title to Nordau and other nonathletes, such as gambler and 1919 World Series fixer Arnold Rothstein, Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich and broadcast legend Howard Cosell. Their inclusion on the basis of their significant impacts on the landscape of sports is, however, well-defended by Foer and Tracy. Other highlights include Jonathan Safran Foer on Bobby Fischer, Steven Pinker on Red Auerbach, Buzz Bissinger on Barney Ross and George Packer on Mark Cuban.
A must for the bookshelf of any Jewish sports fan.