An episodic, somewhat gimmicky, but always engaging history of American sports through material culture.
In this entertaining book, McKinsey & Company editor Murphy (Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, 2007) explores American sports history through 100 different objects from a wide range of the American sporting experience—e.g., balls, articles of clothing, and various ephemera. In chapters of no more than a handful of pages (and sometimes a single page), building on one object from one year, the author shows how the objects of our sports and games take on historical significance based on their larger context. She does not aim for comprehensiveness, ignoring some important moments and athletes, but she provides wide coverage of sports and those who play them. She is especially effective at giving women’s sports their due, placing female athletes front and center in numerous entries. Murphy writes in a conversational, witty fashion, making wry observations without losing touch with the larger historical, social, and political significance of the events and athletes that give the objects their significance. The vast majority of her focus is on the 20th century, though she ranges as far back as the year 1100, examining a statue of a player of an indigenous game known as “chunkey.” She continues through 2016 with two objects: the sobering brain scans of an NFL player who was the victim of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the inspiring medals from the Special Olympics. The approach is undoubtedly premised on a bit of a contrivance, but the book is a solid reference and will make a great bathroom book. It is a shame, however, that Murphy never mentions, even in passing, Gavin Mortimer’s two almost identically structured books, A History of Football in 100 Objects (2012) and A History of Cricket in 100 Objects (2013).
An enjoyable romp through the things that helped make the sports we love.