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Playing Through the Whistle
Steel, Football, and an American Town
By (author): S. L. Price
9780802127273 Paperback, Trade English General Trade SPORTS & RECREATION / Football Oct 27, 2017
$28.50 CAD
Active 5.5 x 8.25 x 1.47 in 560 pages Grove/Atlantic Grove Press
In the early twentieth century, down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company built one of the largest mills in the world and a town to go with it. Aliquippa was a beacon and melting pot, pulling in thousands of families from eastern and southern Europe and the Jim Crow south. The J&L mill, though dirty and dangerous, offered a chance at a better life and hope for the future. It produced the steel that built American cities and won World War II and, thanks to hard-fought union victories, made Aliquippa something of a workers’ paradise. But then, in the 1980’s, the steel industry cratered. The mill closed. Crime rose and crack hit big.

But another industry grew in Aliquippa. The town didn’t just make steel; it made elite football players, from Mike Ditka to Ty Law to Darrelle Revis. Pro football was born in Western Pennsylvania, and few places churned out talent like Aliquippa. Despite its troubles—maybe even because of them—Aliquippa became legendary for producing greatness.

InPlaying Through the Whistle, celebrated sportwriter S. L. Price tells the remarkable story of Aliquippa and through it, the larger history of American industry, sports, and life. Price charts the fortunes of Aliquippa’s celebrated team through championships under charismatic coaches and through hard times after the mill died. In an era when sports has grown from novelty to a vital source of civic pride, Price reveals the shifting mores of a town defined by work—and the loss of it—yet anchored by a weekly game. Today, as our view of football shifts and participation drops, in Aliquippa the sport can still feel like the one path away from life on the streets, the last force keeping the town together.

One of the most acclaimed sports books of 2016,Playing Through the Whistle is a masterpiece of narrative journalism and, like football, it will make you marvel, wince, cry, and cheer.

S. L. Price, a senior writer atSports Illustrated since 1994, is the author of three previous books:Heart of the Game;Pitching Around Fidel, which was a finalist for theLos Angeles Times Book Prize; andFar Afield. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his family.

Praise forPlaying Through the Whistle:

Finalist for the 2017 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
Named a Best Book of 2016 by theBoston Globe,Kirkus Reviews, andBuffalo News (Best Sports Books)
An Amazon No. 1 Bestseller (Football)
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (History and Nonfiction)


“Evocative and enterprising . . . [Playing Through the Whistle] is a big book . . . capturing major cultural shifts (and tensions) in a regional microcosm.”Wall Street Journal

“People who see sports as an escape from the real world might be surprised at just how often the two overlap. The American experience constantly darts into the western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa in S.L. Price’sPlaying Through the Whistle . . . Price unfurls social history in tandem with the successes and failures of the Aliquippa High Quips . . . If baseball is the national pastime, perhaps football is the national reality.”New York Times Book Review

“[A] masterwork . . . Engrossing, and heartbreaking.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Price has created not only a thorough history of high school football in Aliquippa but also a meticulous chronicle of the labor movement and the rise and fall of industrial America . . . Price gives Aliquippa a chance to tell its own story in these pages. And an important story it is.”Pittsburgh Magazine

“A great new book . . . Like the best sports books,Playing Through the Whistle is more than sports. It’s about history, it’s about geography, and most of all it’s about a place where the American Dream checked out a long time ago, and the only thing left behind is the echo of yesterday’s cheers. A book that should be read by anyone trying to understand what is happening in today’s America.”Providence Journal

“I’m impressed with the book and its wide-ranging look from the eyes of an out-of-towner . . . I commend Price for his in-depth look into the history of the town and a special look at the sports side of it.”Beaver County Times

“S.L. Price paints a beautiful, painful portrait of Aliquippa and its football program inPlaying Through the Whistle . . . Price’s book is a tale that can swing from triumph to heartbreak in almost the blink of an eye.”Pittsburgh City Paper

“S.L. Price chronicles a richly detailed history of Aliquippa football . . . An unvarnished decade-by-decade look at the town, the team and the synergy between them . . . A fitting memorial to a remarkable story of urban struggle and athletic prowess.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Probably my favorite sports book of the year, even though sports are only part of the story.”Buffalo News (Best Sports Books for 2016)

“For NFL fans, Aliquippa, Pa., is known as a town that produced more than its share of football greatness. In an attempt to get at why, this book delves into the history of football, the state and draws a larger picture about American history. A great read.”Toronto Star

Playing Through the Whistle . . . looks at the struggling steel town of Aliquippa, Pa., through the prism of its high school football team. The author understands the Rust Belt particulars of the region better than most political professionals.”Wall Street Journal (What to Give: Sports Books)

“[An] excellent book . . . Price captures the glory days when Aliquippa produced not only steel, but also prominent Americans, ranging from Mike Ditka to Henry Mancini.”National Book Review

“S. L. Price . . . digs deep to report on Aliquippa’s intertwined history of steel and football . . .Playing Through the Whistle is a history of a town but it’s more than that . . . Price . . . writes perceptively about racial tensions, crack cocaine and the violence that has scarred Aliquippa . . . Honest, nuanced reporting.”News & Observer

“Price thoroughly explores the football saga . . . but this is no mere sports story . . . An artful mix of history, economics, sociology, and athletics . . . Price’s especially touching engravings of ‘promise squandered,’ those chewed up and spit out by Aliquippa’s tough environment, contrast powerfully with the tales of football triumph . . . Price’s football story is really that of America’s Rust Belt in poignant miniature.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[An] exhaustive history . . . A more thorough account of any high school athletic program in the country would be tough to find.”Publishers Weekly

“Price, aSports Illustrated senior writer, tells the town’s story all very well . . . There are . . . revealing anecdotes about individual players and the coaches . . . Good stuff forFriday Night Lights devotees.”Booklist

Playing Through the Whistle is . . . rich history . . . In creative nonfiction journalistic style like that of Pete Hamill or Gay Talese . . . Price dramatically chronicles [Aliquippa’s] rise and fall . . .Playing Through the Whistle is an omnibus modern history of the United States as played out in the football ethos of small town Aliquippa, Pa.”Shelf Awareness

“Year after year, some of the best books about the human condition come from sportswriters, and S.L. Price has added another illuminating work to that list. Playing Through the Whistle is about football in the legendary western Pennsylvania steel town of Aliquippa, but so much more. It is an evocative, wistful journey through decades of American struggle and achievement and loss.”—David Maraniss, author ofWhen Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi andOnce in a Great City: A Detroit Story

“Applause to S.L. Price for the mind-blowing research and gorgeous storytelling.Playing Through the Whistle is a sprawling display of Price’s signature prose: sharp, vivid, and particular. You feel the heat of the blast furnace, the turf of the Friday night gridiron. With football as his lens, Price transports you to the glory days of an iconic American steel town, and envelops you in the saga of its ultimate demise.”—Jeanne Marie Laskas,New York Times best-selling author ofConcussion

“S.L. Price’sPlaying Through the Whistle is a big book on a tough town. It reminded me ofThe Wire, which is high praise.”—Roy Blount Jr., author ofAbout Three Bricks Shy of a Load andSave Room for Pie

“S.L. Price is hands down the best writer about sports and the meaning of sports in America today, and this is his most ambitious and finest work yet.Playing Through the Whistle is an exhaustively reported and expertly written narrative about the rise and fall of industrial America—and football’s central place in that story.”—Stefan Fatsis, author ofA Few Seconds of Panic andWord Freak

Playing Through the Whistle is a gut-wrenching portrait of a high school football team that has to embody the American dream for one small town, in large part because everything else that was supposed to do it has fallen apart. I would say this is some of the best sports writing I read this year, except that it’s some of the bestwriting I’ve read this year.”—David Epstein, author ofThe Sports Gene

“Among Scott Price’s many interesting and well-crafted sentences is this: ‘Heavy industry and football share the same DNA.’ If so, the progeny of big steel is, in fact, high school football. Even as mill life disappears, football lives remain. With deeply nuanced reporting, and a style that’s both big-hearted and unsentimental,Playing Through the Whistle isn’t merely the history of an American town, but American history itself.”—Mark Kriegel, author ofNamath andPistol

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