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The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,658 ratings  ·  177 reviews
Grantland and Deadspin correspondent presents a breakthrough examination of the professional wrestling, its history, its fans, and its wider cultural impact that does for the sport what Chuck Klosterman did for heavy metal.
The Squared Circle grows out of David Shoemaker’s writing for Deadspin, where he started the column “Dead Wrestler of the Week” (which boasts over 1 mi
Hardcover, 390 pages
Published October 31st 2013 by Avery (first published March 21st 2013)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,658 ratings  ·  177 reviews

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Oct 31, 2013 rated it liked it
As a wrestling fan, it can be difficult to find intelligent wrestling commentary. I became familiar with The Masked Man, aka David Shoemaker, mainly through his work at Grantland, and have always found him to be an interesting and thought provoking read on the subject.

There is a lot of interesting history and stories in the book. However, I think it suffers from the format. Chapters focus on a particular wrestler, similar to his Dead Wrestler of the Week columns, but as a result, there's a lot o
Jen from Quebec :0)
Yes, it is true that I have only finished the 6 hour PART 1 of this Audible book, but I am going to split the review in 2 parts, just as the book is split into two parts.

This was GOOD. If you like wrestling, that is. If you are not already a WWE fan, and do not already know a LOT of wrestling history (which, don't worry- I DO) then this book is not going to be a good read for you. The author jumps in without pausing for breath. For example, he will start talking about Wrestlemania matches, assum
Dec 07, 2013 rated it liked it
David Shoemaker rose to prominence with his weekly Deadspin column, “Dead Wrestler of the Week”. At first glance, the column’s title seems unnecessarily harsh but Shoemaker writes with a real passion for those who entertained us during their sometimes short lived career. At some point, he decided to adapt this into a book about the history of pro wrestling and those who’ve passed before their time. Cramming over one hundred years of history into a tight four hundred pages isn’t an easy task but ...more
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Every child of the 80s who grew up watching wrestling on Saturday mornings should give this book a chance. I was floored by how eloquent and insightful the writing was, because come on, it's a book about wrestling, so my expectations were low. David Shoemaker is an entertaining writer that really understands how to write about sports, something that so many become so passionate about. He is at turns funny and brutally honest, and it made for a perfectly sobering look at the real-life trauma that ...more
Theo Girvan
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
The ref counts three, the timekeeper rings the bell, the announcer says goodnight, the houselights come up. The promoter counts the night's haul. The wrestler takes a shower, a soak, a painkiller. The fan walks to his car and drives home. The wrestler takes a ride in a rental car to the next town.
Luke Koran
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wrestling, favorites
Whether you are a die-hard professional wrestling fan or simply a person who repeatedly claims wrestling is “fake” to justify your own ignorance of what lengths these athletes actually go to as an entertainer and to earn a paycheck day in and day out, this book is definitely for you. “The Squared Circle” - intelligently and enjoyably written by a former wrestler in the know - hits the message home of what pro wrestling in modern society is, why this form of artistic performance is so beloved by ...more
Dec 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: journalism, sports
I have a deep relationship with Pro Wrestling that stems from my childhood. I LOVED that shit. Then I got older and didn't love it in the same way anymore. Then I finally realized WHAT it was that these guys do night after night, and that childhood love came rushing back along with a newfound respect for the performers and what they do. These are professional stuntmen/actors and while they are loved, they generally aren't respected in the way that they should be and this book seems to try correc ...more
Jeff Raymond
In the last year, I've been roped back into the world of professional wrestling. A rite of passage for any preteen boy as is, it's decidedly uncool as a thirtysomething, but being older now I've come to appreciate a lot of the unique storytelling aspects that go along with the goofy lowbrow craziness that comes with the sport format.

David Shoemaker is best known for his Deadspin "Dead Wrestler of the Week" pieces as well as writing a regular column for Grantland on the ins and outs of the WWE. I
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Absolutely essential for any fan of pro wrestling, or for anyone seeking to understand why people are fans of pro wrestling. This book truly captures the spirit of the whole silly business, and the fact that it does so through a chronicle of untimely deaths is not lost on me. Wrestling is dark and fucked up--it's a fixed sport in which people entertain crowds by doing incredibly dangerous things to each other and themselves. By focusing on the negative consequences wrestling had on ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I grew up watching wrestling. I loved Macho Man Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, the Rockers, the Bush Whackers, hell I could go on and on. As I grew older I lost interest, but when Savage died in 2011 I tuned into Monday Night Raw to see what sort of tribute they would do and I was immediately sucked back in. And when CM Punk dropped this pipe bomb a few months later I was hooked.

The next thing you know I'm looking for some good wrestling writers online and I stumble across Shoemaker's work
Tyler Conium
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is, for the most part, written about all the lives that have been lost to pro wrestling. From Owen Hart and Mr. Perfect, to Chris Benoit. The beginning of the book was very descriptive, as the author takes you through the territorial era. There was much to learn from the first 1/3 of the book, with many wrestlers I knew next to nothing about.

However, it seemed midway through the book, Shoemaker's descriptions became less and less in depth. In talking about the more popular wrestlers -
Darcy McLaughlin
This book is enjoyable, but if you're already a pretty dedicated wrestling fan then you will probably have heard many of the stories it contains. It's valuable for the early stars it covers, the pre-WWII era wrestling world where people would pay to watch a 3 hour match end in a draw. The bits of history it contains is intriguing to a modern fan, specifically the fact that people have been in on the "fake" sport since the very beginning (and we don't really care).

Shoemaker definitely has an inte
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Started really well, tons of good history about the early days of wrestling and a good bios of wrestlers that i did't even know about. Newer stuff seems like they were too short or missing important bits and some cases just referencing Wikipedia entrys. I was especially disappointment in the Ludvig Borga chapter, as he was a Finnish wrestler, i was looking forward to read about him more than others, but chapter was just short snippet without any real information. Anyway, early parts of the book ...more
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
If you pick this up expecting a bunch of shoot interviews you'll be disappointed. After spending about a third of the book on the early (pre-TV) beginnings of wrestling it soon morphs into a well footnoted book on the deaths of famous wrestlers.

The over-riding theme is that the physical abuse and lifestyle results in a toxic cocktail of PEDs, painkillers and recreational drugs leading to an early death.

As such it ends up reading like a very good college thesis, but not a worthwhile read.
Daniel A.
Jun 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this. I devoured ever other wrestling book that I have read but this book comes off more like an encyclopedia or text book instead of a book. As a wrestling fan, I was hoping to read something new and exciting but instead I got almost 400 pages of stuff that I could find on wikipedia.
Ameya Joshi
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of my aims this year was to read more about things 'I' am interested in and not things that 'they' tell you to read. Pro-Wrestling isn't considered the most high-brow of pursuits but another note-to-self was to stop being defensive about things you enjoy as long as you recognize them for what they are (hey I know too many adults who enjoy Superhero comics and Govinda movies instead of being embarrassed by them, so to each our own...)

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
An invaluable primer into the wild and complicated world of professional wrestling, David Shoemaker's epic story examines not just the historical significance of wrestling but attempts to explore why this pantomime show of larger-than-life figures hurting each other has proven so enduring. Shoemaker, who covered wrestling for Deadspin for many years, takes a look at the history of the "sport," from the early touring circuits to the major TV breakthrough of the WWF in the 1980s, and also focuses ...more
Ben Horne
Jul 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The Squared Circle is the emotional and physiological history of professional wrestling from David Shoemaker. The book is an examination of the wrestlers, fans, and cultural impact of the sport. I’ve been a big fan of Shoemaker since his writing back at Grantland, and wanted to finally read his book.

While not being a wrestling devotee myself, I did want to expand my knowledge and understanding why folks are so passionate about it. Large chunks of the book are devoted to the alarming number of d
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sports
Clear, cogent, brilliantly argued look at pro-wrestling as a struggle between sport and drama, between real life and entertainment, the ultimate encounter with real life being death. Comes from Shoemaker's columns on dead wrestlers for Grantland and at time feels too much like a bundle of columns wrapped in a messy bow of a narrative that doesn't really hold anything together. Minor league complaint though. If you are even the slightest bit curious about pro-wrestling, this is among the best boo ...more
Jason McCracken
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a nice little trip down memory lane... The only minor complaint that I have is that it's probably a little bit too sympathetic to a lot of guys who don't really deserve any sympathy at all (ie. the author is obviously a huge Chris Benoit fan).

That said, I absolutely loved that a lot of jobbers rated more than a few mentions and S.D. Jones managed to get nearly half a chapter to himself! :-D

ps. The publisher might want to redo the Fabulous Moolah chapter considering some of the informati
Jeff Lynsky
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Got this as a Christmas present and enjoyed it very much. As another reviewer stated, the best thing I also found was the chronological structure of the book that still allows you to dip in and out as you please. I enjoyed reading about deaths I was very familiar with, such as Eddie and Benoit, and it was great reading about lesser-known and years-gone-by stars such as Moolah and Jones. Further to this, the writing style is very eloquent but not condescending nor inaccessible.

This is a book for
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book!

Only quibble I have; I'm guessing that a lot of it was built from The Masked Man's Dead Wrestler of the Week column, but with the brilliant scene-setting of the various eras of wrestling. The only problem is that often something was mentioned in one section then pretty much repeated a few pages later a time or two. So could have done with a little more careful editing, perhaps...

But it's generally excellent, with great stories, from a guy who has researched the hell out
L.M. Bennett
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting peek behind into the politics of professional wrestling and the private lives of the wrestlers who put their bodies on the line. I like that David did not pull any punches in discussing the often subtle and overt racism behind certain characters (even beloved ones from childhood) and the forces behind the scenes. He also gives a fair amount of attention to women's wrestling, which I appreciated. I was riveted throughout. Great read.
Mo Coghlan
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great mix of stories I'd heard before and stories new to me. This book puts a lot of the wrestling history into context, talking about what was happening in multiple brands, rather than just WWF/WWE specific. Shoemaker also brings some of the psychology of fandom into play, like why we pretend that it's real and why we genuinely love the faces and hate the heels. I really enjoyed this book and will be looking for more by this author.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read that helps share the stories from the darker side of professional wrestling and molded it to what it is today. Some of these stories are more known than others so I'll admit some sections I knew already while others was new to me. I loved how the author created sections with a chapter to elaborate on a particular theme within the chapter, which was a great tool to add more context rather you knew the story already or not. .
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am not a fan of pro wrestling but I listened to Shoemaker's podcast a couple of times and wanted to know more about the language and history of the sport/entertainment and was thrilled with what this book delivered. If for just teaching the language of pro wrestling and the history of all it's fallen heroes (and there are SO many dead wrestlers) I felt transported to and enlightened by a world I never intended to go to.
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Intelligent look at the history of professional wrestling in the U.S. from its origins through the publication date. It focuses on historical narrative, public perception, characters, and the rise and fall of different organizations.

The biggest drawback is the layout. Professional wrestling probably doesn't lend itself to a linear history, and while the author loosely grouped together themes/characters, some of the threads could be hard to follow at times.
Matthew Metzdorf
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fantastic history of wrestling told through the lives of dead wrestlers-some midcard jobbers, some veritable legends. Throughout, Shoemaker masterfully provides a brief but thorough synopsis of their careers through two lenses- 1.) through the kayfabe lens of their mythology and legend; and 2.) the reality of their humanity. Any fan of wrestling would benefit greatly from this read.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Some good yarns but besides some interesting stuff on the salad days of pro wrestling, the focus is on WWF/E. No mention of pro wrestling in Mexico as an institution, only passing mention of a few names, and wrestling in Japan is only acknowledged regarding which western stars visited. Even ROH/TNA/ECW scrapes by with sentences here and there.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is really interesting if you had any kind of wrestling association in your life. I checked out in the modern era after my fandom ended, but it's an interesting look at the history of pro wrestling in America as well as dives into the stories of some of the legends who are no longer with us.
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“But just as much as it was a sport, it was a sideshow—a carny act that eventually made it to Broadway. So the next time you hear somebody say, “You know wrestling is fake, right?” you can tell him that yes, you know. That’s exactly the point.” 1 likes
“They were flying back from a big show in London, the whole roster on the plane. The story goes that much alcohol was consumed and things quickly got uncomfortable: Hennig and Scott Hall went wild with some shaving cream; Dustin Rhodes awkwardly serenaded his ex-wife, Terri; the legendary wrestler turned booker Michael “P.S.” Hayes got punched out by JBL and later, after he had fallen asleep, had his ponytail chopped off by Sean Waltman; Ric Flair paraded in front of a flight attendant in nothing but his sequined ring robe; and, to top it all off, Hennig challenged collegiate wrestling star (and WWE golden boy) Brock Lesnar to a Greco-Roman wrestling match that ended when Lesnar tackled Hennig into the exit door, and they were pulled apart just before they jeopardized the flight.” 1 likes
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