Thursday 30 January 2014

Book review : Ping-Pong Diplomacy - Nicholas Griffin

Ping-Pong Diplomacy sounds like it would be a great title for a work of fiction, but the rather long subtitle clarifies that it is actually non-fiction : Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story Behind the Game That Changed The World.

I must admit, I'd never thought of ping pong as a game that changed the world so I was intrigued enough to want to find out more. The book presents the rather eccentric character of Ivor Montagu, a wealthy Englishmen who wanted to use the game as a tool for promoting his Communist ideologies. Montagu was highly successful in what he set out to achieve but I couldn't warm to him - he spied on his country, betrayed his friends and didn't seem overly fazed by the horrors of the Stalinist Soviet state that he supported. I would have liked the book to give a more fleshed out and detailed account of the man, his personality and his motives because I didn't really feel that I got to know or understand him.

The story of the sport's growth and importance on the world stage was fascinating and rather surprising though. If it had been in a novel, it would have been dismissed as being at best highly unlikely and at worst completely ludicrous, but they say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The sport was a catalyst for thawing the frosty relations between China and America after the war (as well as giving the Japanese a chance to redeem themselves slightly), opening doors for diplomatic negotiations that would otherwise have remained firmly closed. This had a ripple effect, distancing China and Russia, forcing Russia into an arms race that would ultimately lead to an end to the Cold War. All that with a simple game like ping pong !

You don't need to be an expert on table tennis to enjoy the book, but you do need to be interested in world politics and history. The book touches on many key moments, including the Holocaust, which aren't dealt with in any great detail so you do need some good general knowledge of modern history to really get the full overview.

I thought it was interesting but did start to find it a bit heavy-going about half way through. It's not one that will keep you up half the night turning the pages but it does offer an enlightening look at how something so simple as an parlour game could (and did) end up shaping the modern world as we know it today.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £20

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857207342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857207340
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.2 cm

Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, and surprising as you say. I tend to like factual (true stories etc) books. So might look out for this one. Thanks for the review.

    Rachel Craig


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