The Sporting Life

1. The anthropology of sport: bodies, borders, biopolitics
Besnier, Niko. by Niko Besnier, Susan Brownell, and Thomas F. Carter California, 2018

Three accomplished anthropologists provide a thorough overview of the anthropological study of sport. They combined their own specialty areas with prior anthropology publications as well as a survey of the literature of sport history, sociology, and philosophy to produce a thematically organized discussion of sport across the millennia and across the world as a whole. Topics include sport through the lens of colonialism and imperialism, health and the environment, cultural performance and mega-events, nationalism, social class, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and sexuality. Each of these topics has been studied by other scholars in a variety of disciplines (which the authors acknowledge with detailed notes), but the strength of this work is both the connection of past scholarship with anthropological theory and the inclusion of a truly international perspective that encompasses the non-Western world.
View on Amazon 

2. Tigerland: 1968-1969, a city divided, a nation torn apart, and a magical season of healing
Haygood, Wil. Knopf, 2018

During the 1968–69 school year, East High School in still de facto segregated Columbus, Ohio, saw its vaunted boys basketball team and underdog baseball teams win state championships. In a deeply racially divided, underfunded urban community still reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., these young men provided a measure of hope. Haygood, a journalist, captures the national, state, and local contexts within which the Tigers’ sports seasons played out; he also focuses closely, studying the players’ experiences on a nearly game-by-game basis. It is, of course, debatable how much one high school and two teams truly can heal a community, but there is little doubt that the East High School Tigers were a team of their era, embodying its fears and disappointments and its hopes, dreams, and successes.
View on Amazon 

3. Bulls markets: Chicago’s basketball business and the new inequality
Dinces, Sean. Chicago, 2018

This excellent book contributes to the body of work confirming that publicly subsidized sports facilities are unwise investments for taxpayers, described by experts as a “massive reverse Robin Hood scheme.” This lesson, however, is not as easy to see in the case of the wildly successful Chicago Bulls. Led by Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, the Bulls captivated Chicago and dominated the NBA in the 1990s. They helped change Chicago’s image of crime and rust, driving a revitalization that included Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and much more. As Capone faded and Jordan became the city’s brand, the Bulls were universally lauded as socially responsible and upright corporate citizens.
View on Amazon 

4. Infield fly rule is in effect: the history and strategy of baseball’s most (in)famous rule
Wasserman, Howard M. McFarland, 2019

The Infield Fly Rule (IFR) has become a shibboleth: knowledge of its content, nuances, and effects separates cognoscenti from dabblers. Reputedly obscure, yet quite easy to state, and only moderately more difficult to put into practice, it is less difficult (or consequential) than rules commonly found in other sports (soccer offsides, anyone?). Deep thinkers about legal, economic, and political theory find IFR provides a framework for discussing cherished concepts; Wasserman (law, Florida International Univ.) tells why. The Infield Fly Rule is a “limiting rule” addressing a situation with four critical characteristics: (1) one party’s incentive is to act contrary to ordinary understanding of excellence, thereby (2) receiving extraordinary and inequitable cost-benefit disparity, that (3) the opposition is powerless to counter, producing 4) an overwhelming incentive for (1)’s perverse action every time the situation arises. Without IFR, an IFR situation produces a game event that is ugly, unfair, and (worst of all) boring.
View on Amazon 

5. Fidel Castro and baseball: the untold story
Bjarkman, Peter C. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019

This book contextualizes the historical, social, political, and cultural effects of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution on the development of modern nonprofit professional baseball. Bjarkman organizes his book into three major critical sections; they focus on the US political and social myths surrounding Cuban baseball, the sport’s social and cultural transformation, the sports legacy of Fidel Castro, and the making of modern Cuban baseball. This scholarship challenges US perspectives on the foundation of nonprofit professional Cuban baseball and the role Fidel Castro played. An independent scholar, Bjarkman provides an in-depth review and analysis of this critical subject; his findings are based on historical accounts, oral interviews, and primary materials, which add to the book’s credibility. This is the first text that examines the historical and cultural foundation of Cuban baseball and the ideological role Fidel Castro had in the making of nonprofit professional sports in Cuba.
View on Amazon