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The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game    by John Fox order for
by John Fox
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2012 (2012)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Anthropologist and sports enthusiast John Fox explores the history of some of our favorite ball games, their origins and evolution, and how the simple invention of the ball has resulted in games that provide millions of fans with entertainment and a handful of athletes on the professional level with millions of dollars to hit, catch, throw and shoot the round sphere.

The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game is an intriguing book that journeys from the jungles of Mexico to the farm belt of the American Mid-West, and from the courts of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs to James Naismith's YMCA in New England as the author traces the development of various types of games incorporating a round ball.

Although there will be plenty of athletic events in the upcoming Olympics that do not feature a ball, there will be many moments when the ball will take center court as viewers all over the world watch as the essential piece of equipment is either tossed, kicked, struck or lofted through, into or across a net by their favorite teams or players.

After reading about the evolution of the ball from severed heads to papyrus to polymers, you'll find specific chapters on a select number of ball games such as soccer, lacrosse, tennis, baseball, football and basketball. The author also touches on other related topics such as the social and psychological importance of play at a time when our children are spending more hours indoors in front of computers or electronic games.

He also raises the issue of concussions and violence and how these and similar, related problems are getting worse and making us question how some of our most revered sports are played.

'This book will toggle back and forth between past and present to explore what's changed, what's remained stubbornly the same, and what might be essential to carry forward to the future,' writes Fox.

With fiascos such as the Penn State and the NFL/New Orleans Saints bounty scandals and the other problems creating negative sports headlines, the author hopes this book will refocus us and counter some of the negative publicity that makes us question why we even need these games.

'We need to reclaim our purest, most primal connections to the games we love and remind ourselves why they matter so much,' Fox writes.

A very quick read, The Ball is filled with page after page of interesting information. You'll discover that there is another pure game of tennis, jeu de paume or real tennis, that is still played by a small group of enthusiasts on a very unusual court.

You'll visit a Native American community that produces many top-flight college lacrosse players and travel to the Scottish Isles to learn about Kirkball B which perhaps planted the seeds for modern day soccer/football.

Also, you'll become acquainted with Bilqis Adbul-Qaadir, a young woman who scored 3,070 career points in high school, which shattered by 300 points the Massachusetts state record set by Rebecca Lobo. The four foot, ten inch teenager managed this remarkable feat while following the dictates of her Islamic faith. This meant her arms and legs were fully covered when she took to the court and she wore a traditional hijab scarf wrapping on her head.

Anyone who enjoys sports will find this book a pleasant and very satisfying read. No doubt, you'll also learn a few interesting facts about your favorite sports that you didn't know before and will be able to dazzle your friends with your new found knowledge.

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