"The Big House" book review

Submitted by Yostal on July 5th, 2008 at 12:37 AM

So yesterday I used a power failure to finish up reading <i>The Big House: Fielding Yost and the Building of Michigan Stadium</i>.  I thought I would share a couple of thoughts about the book.

Let me begin by saying that I do think that if you have any interest in the history of the Michigan football program, this book is a definite must read.  The prose lacks a certain lyrical flow, but it is more than made up for in the exceptional level of research done.  Drawing from Yost's letters as coach, AD, and his personal correspondence, along with extensive excerpts from <i>The Michigan Daily</i>, Dr. Soderstrom gives the reader an exceptional view of what it was like to be a Michigan football fan in the 1920s.

Which leads me to one of my favorite things I drew from the book:  In 85 years, Michigan football fans (and college football in general) has changed immensely and at the same time, very little. There were academic wailings about the quality of student that was brought in to be a part of the football team, concerns about a stadium "arms race" among colleges, the concerns over professionalism and its impact upon the sport, concerns about student rowdiness at games and on road trips, the concerns about students using football games as an excuse to get drunk, and my personal favorite, the Daily repeatedly calling out the Ferry Field crowd for its lack of vocal and enthusiastic support for what were some great Michigan teams.  So much of college football handwringing today is really nothing more than variations on a theme.

I also enjoyed the insight into Fielding Yost.  We need never question where the popularity of the phrase "Michigan man" came from.  It's clearly a Yostism.  In dozens of letters and speeches, his focus was on the "Michigan man" (and woman, Yost's willingness to embrace a co-educational university and equality in physical education for women is a recurrent theme in the book.) I was also impressed with Yost's tirelessness, particularly in his advocacy for building Michigan Stadium, and the obstacles he was compelled to overcome to build it.  Indeed, even the reminder that before it was Yost Ice Arena, it was Yost Field House is worth the time devoted to it, the first Field House in the country.

All in all, I enjoyed the book because I have an interest in the subject area, and the level of research more than made up for any other failings of the book.

Have a good weekend.
Craig Barker
The Hoover Street Rag



July 6th, 2008 at 12:53 AM ^

It's largely one of an inability to translate the brilliance and depth of the research into an engaging prose narrative.  Too often the book makes strange choices on how much time is spent on subjects, some paths are left wanting, while others are examined to a depth that verges on boredom and too frequently, repetitiveness.  I think the repetitiveness is the greatest frustration, a point made two pages earlier would be repeated as linking text in the exact same phrasing on the page you were reading and then again two pages later it would seem.

I also would have liked to have seen a little more time spent on discussing the architecture and the choices made by Yost and the designers.  The notion of Michigan Stadium being in the "hole" model was an intriguing one, as was the one of how the "east entrance" turnnel was inspired by Roman coliseums.