6-2 | The Ball: The Object of the Game

Book Review

The Ball: The Object of the Game

John Fox
New York: Harper Perennial, 2012. Notes, bibliography, index. 400 pp. $14.99 paper. ISBN: 9780061881794

by Carlin Wing

First Paragraph:

Why do we play ball? The Ball: The Object of the Game begins with the conceit that John Fox—prompted by an offhand question tossed out by his seven-year-old son—embarked on a quest to articulate why humans play ball. Although the underlying motivation for the work clearly comes from the years he spent researching an ancient Mayan ball game, this father-son moment of bonding sets up the book’s conversational tone and serves as its narrative thread. Fox begins by claiming the ball as a universal object: one that has been differently bounced, kicked, thrown, and batted about by cultures for all of human history. He wisely declines an attempt at an encyclopedia of ball games, and instead chooses to focus on eight exemplary ball sports from the past and present, those that, “best reveal . . . key historical moments in the evolution of ball games, from the ancient world to the present” (p. 10). Fox gives sustained attention to the Kirkwall Ba’, jeu de paume (or royal tennis), the Mayan ball game and its present-day iteration ulama, the American Indian tradition of lacrosse, American baseball, football, and basketball, and, at the end, a nod to soccer. As Fox elaborates these examples of balls being batted around for the purposes of pick-up play, complex ritual, and major media event, another question comes to the fore: How do the ways we play, and their differences, matter?