In one sweep of the Harper’s archive, Rules of the Game collects some of the most venerable voices of American writing in a single volume. Yes, they all talk sports. But, they do so in a way that touches the varied threads of American life, building larger societal issues – race, for example – as they tackle the games that amuse us all. The earliest of the essays (from 1903) finds James B. Connolly chatting about German ships.  The bookend essay (chronologically speaking), by Lewis H. Lapham from 2008, address drug use in Major League Baseball.

The joy of Rules of the Game comes in part through the pacing of the essays. They are not divided by theme, there is no strong push to plod along year by year. Instead editors Matthew Stevenson and Michael Martin allow the pieces to flow naturally, providing snapshots of American history through the lens of sports. A personal favorite comes from Pete Axthelm, whose “The City Game” brings the basketball courts of New York City alive. The racial changes to the game are tackled, working to not to seperate but to hammer down the socio-economic concerns that root basketball in the urban American landscape.

Axthelm’s essay is just one of many rich snap shots within Rules of the Game, a book which has enough depth to engage any reader regardless of sporting bend.

Out from April, 1, 2010, from Franklin Square Press. Preorder from Amazon.

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