Sport, by Tim Harris

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The Independent Culture

Christmas is a'coming, and the books are getting fat, as publishers set out their gift stalls. And few will be fatter than this offering, at nearly 1,000 pages. Modestly subtitled "Almost everything you ever wanted to know", it is an ambitious attempt at a comprehensive history of sport, from cave paintings of woolly mammoth hunts through the origins of the Olympics to the machinery and machinations of Formula One. By and large Tim Harris succeeds in ordering a sprawling mass of material, along the way answering a host of pub-argument questions such as why football shirts tend to be striped while rugby union favours hoops, why golf courses have 18 holes, and why boxing rings are square. He is not infallible – it's wrong, for instance, to say "all the quality papers now have daily sports supplements" – but his lively, often opinionated account is a very good reason to ignore W G Grace's advice: "Never read print. It spoils one's eye for the ball."

Published by Yellow Jersey Press in hardback, £20.