Well it’s that super fun time of year on the Flats once more, finals season! But that also means it’s the start of the holiday season, which is far superior. I liked doing a book review and gift column last year, so I brought it back. Hopefully you use it to inform your purchases at your own risk.
I liked the idea of doing Tech related gifts and books last year for the holiday season, so it’s back this year. Since I did a whole class this past semester on how the history of America has been shaped by sport, we’re going to come at this from a slightly different angle than I did last year. Whereas last year was heavy on the Georgia Tech history books, with some other staff recommendations thrown in at the end to spice things up with some variety, we’re going to talk books with Big, Important Ideas About History™ and then see what else happens to be on the shelves of the staff of From the Rumble Seat.
But First, I am Cross-Promotional Shill, if Nothing Else
I get asked about this one a lot, since I’m pretty much always wearing either this one or a previous year’s edition. It’s pretty simple. One side says “To Hell with [you know],” as it always does, while the other says “Defend the 404” with an Atlanta skyline this year. Add on some sweet throwback Yellow Jackets - I don’t dare to call the hunched over version “Buzz” - and you got yourself a fine scarf.
You know why this is here. Ring in 2020 by surprising someone you love with having an *checks notes* Equipment Room, North Letterwinner’s Gate, Press Box, Hall of Fame/Grand Entrance, Outdoor Practice Court, Lobby, Turf Room, Observation/Recruiting Deck, or Dugout named in their honor. Or, rather, endow a scholarship or something.
Features of the Fall (Sports in American History)
You can’t have the thrill of a Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, or even the dull monotony of a Saturday at your local soccer field, without the outsized life and influence of Teddy Roosevelt. In Ryan Swanson’s biographical look at the life of the turn of the century president, he explores the man - long noted and celebrated for his eccentric love of wilderness treks, boxing, tennis, and others - who became the most prominent advocate for what he dubbed The Strenuous Life. Whether it was Roosevelt’s influence on things like college football - he helped spur the creation of the NCAA - or even his distaste for the “mollycoddle” game of baseball, he, more than anyone else, helped mold America in his image, and that image is reflected today in the country’s outsized passion for many of its greatest unifying creations - sporting culture.
Blood Brothers is a pair of biographical looks into the lives of two prominent men of 1960s America, Muhammad Ali, an athlete renowned around the world for his boxing prowess, and Malcolm X, who was famous for decidedly different reasons. Randy Roberts and John Smith look at these two men, their relationship - dubbed “the fatal friendship” - and how their beliefs reflected their backgrounds and related to the America they lived in. Roberts and Smith shine light on myths long believed to be true not just about the individuals, but how they saw one another, and do a fine job of demonstrating the critical historical significance of both of these cultural touchstones.
Also by John Smith and Randy Roberts, individually this time, I admittedly purchased this book because I was engrossed by the first book of theirs I read. They’ve also got another one together called A Season in the Sun about Mickey Mantle. They write good books. Give them a look.
No, not the movie. No, not the television show. Before there was either, there was the book. In it, H. G. Bissinger, an east coast academic editing the Philadelphia Inquirer who left to spend a year embedded in the Permian High School football team, located in Odessa, Texas. In his book, he explores how intrinsically linked the town’s borderline maniacal obsession with their high school football team is to their views of themselves, their community, and the world at large. In it, Bissinger looks at the relationship between the team and school and their players, alumni, fans, teachers, students, and other residents through economic, social, political, racial, gender, and educational lenses. All in all, it was a thorough book, and, even though it is now thirty years old, found it to be a highly engaging read. Would certainly recommend.
How a single construction project - Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles - shaped the future of the largest city on America’s West Coast and the premier sunbelt city is a fascinating premise. I’m only about 100 pages in, but as someone who loves baseball, is extremely interested in the nitty gritty of moving established sports franchises, as well as urban histories, it seems a natural fit. It’s also the only book like it certainly for Los Angeles, and probably for the entire country, so it’s definitely worth a read.
From the Rumble Seat Staff Picks
Schemes! Strategy! Stories about great football minds! This book has all of those! Akshay has gone heavy into stats this season - looking forward to hearing more from him with the results of that work soon.
The new way to win it all: egregiously steal signs without any shame. Wait, this isn’t a baseball blog. Anyways, regardless, they built a juggernaut out of the ashes of a wreckage that could hardly even be called a major league team in perhaps five years. It’s a great premise and comes highly regarded from the Monday? Morning? Backup Punter.
Drew sent this one along, with the note that he hadn’t read it yet, but I’ve also heard great things about it. 1968 was a watershed year in the long arc of American history, and I can imagine that inserting one of the defining rivalries on and off the gridiron in all of American higher education into it would make for a compelling read.
I’m a boy of Big Ten country at heart, and the advent of America’s first conference had as much to do with the dilemmas of yesterday as the ones we still face today. Therefore, again, a book right in my interest zone, and as interested parties to the sport of college football and its winding history, probably a book that will interest you all, as well. Off the beaten path a little - it’s published by the University of Illinois Press - but it’s one I’m glad made its way to my shelf.
Still on our Shelves
How Hal Mumme and Mike Leach changed football. They talk about this thing called a “forward pass” with which I am unfamiliar. Welcome to the Air Raid. Described as Moneyball-esque.
It’s the love of the game. And it’s tremendous. See: this exquisite piece from the fall courtesy of Chris and Stephen.
Another by SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly. This one includes more numbers, I presume, but in all seriousness, it is definitely an insightful look at some of the game’s fascinating detail.
Perhaps the only book I have ever preordered, this is the singular topic investigated by SB Nation’s own Matt Brown interests me more than anything: alternative sports histories. This book has a fascinating premise that doesn’t disappoint, though there were a few chapters that ended with me asking, to no one in particular, “What comes next, Matt Brown?” in exasperation. I wanted more. And I think every reader of this column would appreciate the intricacies of this extensive thought exercise and every reader of this blog would appreciate the chapter about this very Institute.
I believe the latest is that Matt is working on another book, so that is one I eagerly look forward to.
Old Tech Favorites
It is notable that this book is published in 1985, rather than the traditional 1988, as it is a work of several Tech history professors on the occasion of Tech’s centennial. It is even more thorough than Wallace’s book, going into granular detail on politics, academia, and research. There isn’t nearly enough to satisfy my thirst for athletics history, but there are enough interesting details that make it worth it. It is more even-handed than Wallace, written by historians, after all, but a longer, denser read that leaves one less full of a rah-rah Tech spirit and more ambivalent. Though it is worthwhile for some of its fascinating insight, like the divide between the philosophical ideology of Tech and the school in Athens.
I was going to be harsher on this, but I laid off when I remember how far I’ve come. I can’t very well put the various editions of the T-Book on this list since they’re not really readily avaliable outside of convocation, but this is kind of the T-Book, but for non-first week freshmen. It was the first Tech book I read cover to cover, and for it, I’m thankful to have been introduced a little to some of Tech’s fine traditions, history, and especially the colorful personalities that have defined what it means to be a Yellow Jacket for so long. Van Brimmer has a couple gems scattered in there that are really hard to find information for all in one place, so that’s a nice touch, too. For a Yellow Jacket fan just starting out, this is the place to do it, or if you’re looking to have a handy resource to flip to when you need a question answered fast and easily. Author: Adam Van Brimmer.
It’s hard to put into words how much I value this book. As someone who has no historic ties to Tech before I showed up here for school and the legends we’ve had like this, it was awesome to be able to step into the shoes of a great coach, which is really the defining trait of what Dodd and Wilkinson were able to convey in the fascinating story of Bobby Dodd. The multi-work star in Wilkinson complements the tales of a man who has truly seen much of the world of football and, indeed, a different time - you can tell Wilkinson put his heart and soul into getting to know what made one of Tech’s most enduring icons tick. This book makes it that much easier to appreciate why they went and named the stadium after him, as if it weren’t already.
The best book about Georgia Tech or anyone associated with it. This isn’t just a book, it’s the memoirs of George C. Griffin - civil engineer, football letterwinner who scored twice against Cumberland, soldier, mathematics professor, assistant football coach, head tennis coach, head track coach, head cross country coach, a midwife of the Freshman Cake Race, placement officer, alumni ambassador, financial resource, recruiter, Dean of Men, head of health and safety, director of the YMCA that was forerunner to the Student Center, industrial management master - you name it, and Griffin not only saw it, but probably did it. The title comes from a Heisman quote, if that’s not reason enough to buy it, and that anecdote is found within the book. He was an eyewitness to Tech stretching from the days of Heisman and Cumberland to the 1990 Final Four run, to put it in perspective. This book is the rambling but thoughtful recollections of a man who saw pretty much everything, and is unceasingly easy to get deeply hooked in. Quite simply, it is a must read.
The best worst book you’ll ever read. Makes no sense and a chapter was written by AI. Makes for interesting conversation.
Rites of Peace
Congress of Vienna
Major Powers in 17th Century Europe
The Habsburg Empire
Heart of Europe
The Holy Roman Empire
A Mighty Fortress
I’ve been on a European history kick this year. For opinions and more information on these (as well as Chicago, Atlanta, or theological history) hit me up in the comments. This post is mighty long as is. But goodness knows I could talk more about any of them.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule, as the column is only planned out through this very column. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading the latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.