Sport: Almost Everything You Ever Wanted To Know by Tim Harris
|Sport: Almost Everything You Ever Wanted To Know by Tim Harris|
|Reviewer: Iain Wear|
|Summary: A huge amount of information, delivered in a style that is far more readable than your usual reference book. Unfortunately, in making it more readable, it lessens the ease with which you can find information.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 960||Date: August 2008|
|Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press|
We all know one. Someone who can tell you who was the last player to score a hat trick for Accrington Stanley away to Grimsby on a Wednesday night in January. This was just a random example, by the way, so please don't write in with the answer. The kind of person who is wonderful to have on your side at a Quiz Night, but who you don't really want to be getting into conversation with if you can avoid it.
This is the main problem a book like this is going to have. It needs to impart information, but without being incredibly dull. After all, no one reads a dictionary for fun; or no one I know, at least. The introduction sets a light-hearted tone that promises well for the rest of the book and which continues for much of the text, which has quite a light tone to take the edge off the rather heavy material and has the odd humorous aside.
Over the chapters, Harris works through the various sections of sport. He begins on the field itself, talking about how the field of play has changed from the original Olympic arenas to modern day stadia. He the covers how the rules have adapted over the years and how the kit has changed some sports beyond all recognition.
Perhaps more topically, the use of drugs in sport gets a chapter of its own as does, a little more strangely and not entirely in keeping with the way he's set out the rest of the book, the art of racing in all its forms. He ends with the effects of outside influences on the sporting world with chapters on political influences on sport and the media influences on it.
Harris certainly manages to achieve what I believe were his main aims. In terms of the almost everything you need to know, it can't be argued that this book is anything but a complete success. The amount of information contained here is staggering and, whilst the main focus is on the more popular sports; football, cricket, both forms of rugby and horse racing, it's difficult to think of a single sport, even dating back as far as chariot racing and the Ancient Greek Olympics, that doesn't get a mention. The down side of this all-inclusive policy and the attempts to make the book appeal to the maximum number of people is that many sports don't get much page space, with the virtual ignoring of my own particular sport of field hockey being a minor disappointment, even allowing for the fact that Harris warns of this in the introduction.
What wasn't a disappointment was how readable the book was, especially considering the rather imposing size of it. Rather than filling the pages with huge lists and nothing other than facts and figures, Harris has gone for a very readable style. His writing is quite informal and chatty, which makes it like having a conversation with one of those rather dull people I mentioned in the first paragraph. The main difference is that Harris writes with a dry humour that manifests itself most easily in the chapter and section headings, but also allows for the odd wry aside that gives this an edge over most reference style books.
This does make the book an easy read, but unfortunately the way it is set out makes it almost useless as a reference book. In the chapters with a much greater scope, such as the ones on the rules, the arenas and the kit, he attempts to break things up chronologically, but also by sport. This means that he takes chunks of time on one sport, then circles back round to the same period and focuses on another sport and so on. It does keep things flowing, but if something catches your attention and you want to refer back to it, finding it again is going to be next to impossible.
In the sections where there is less information, Harris' style works a lot better. The drugs section is split by drug, rather than by sport, which wasn't quite in keeping with everything else, but gave a good view of how widely used some drugs were. The media and politics chapters were much the same, both written strictly chronologically, without worrying about the sports. Apart from the fact that some information did seem to be repeated between the chapters, these would be the easiest ones to find anything from. The speed sports section was probably the best, as well as being a personal favourite sport of mine, the scope was quite narrow and so a chronological history worked beautifully. My one complaint with that section was that after the invention of the car, it focused almost exclusively on Formula One, with other forms of car racing barely getting a mention.
The one thing that could have made the book more use as a reference tool would have been with the inclusion of a decent index. Sadly, in this area they have also failed with much of the index being grouped by sport as opposed to the more traditional simply alphabetical version. This is more in keeping with the way the book is set out, but does reduce the effectiveness of the book as a reference source.
It's a shame, as there is a lot of information here and Tim Harris has written well and accessibly. I did enjoy reading the book, even discovering to my surprise that it clarified a reference in an introduction to a Stephen King novel for me. However, the way the information is presented means it's unlikely to have mass appeal; it won't work as a reference volume and no one but the most diehard sports fan is going to pick up a book like this to read for pleasure.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
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