The Olympics

Selected titles reviewed in Choice about one of the greatest sporting events ever held.

With the 2016 Olympics in full swing in Rio, the editors at Choice thought it apropos to round up a selection of titles and reviews about the games. Enjoy!

Abrams, Roger I. Playing tough: the world of sports and politics. Northeastern University, 2013. 258p bibl index afp ISBN 9781555537531, $32.95; ISBN 9781555538156 ebook, $31.99 (reviewed in CHOICE February 2014).
Sports have never been just fun and games. At the highest (and occasionally the lowest) level they have always been intensely political. Politics intruded in the ancient Olympic Games, inspired the revival of the Olympics in the 19th century, and have played a role in sporting contests that match national teams or have strong racial or ethnic overtones. Abrams (law, Northeastern Univ.) accepts that premise and focuses on the historical relationship between sports and politics, primarily from the late 19th century onward. He approaches the subject through eight test cases, ranging from sports and machine politics during the Gilded Age, the 1936 Olympics, and the Central American “futbol war” to Muhammad Ali, Olympic boycotts, the use and misuse of sports in South Africa, and financing modern stadiums. Each chapter tells a distinct, compelling story of the relationship between sports and politics, and the whole strips away any illusion that sports can exist without political implications. Abrams writes for a general audience, and the book will be welcome by anyone interested in sports history. Some may suggest certain other political/sports episodes, but few can argue with the legitimacy of Abrams’s claim. —Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers.

Boykoff, Jules. Celebration capitalism and the Olympic games. Routledge, 2014. 170p bibl index (Routledge critical studies in sport, 11) ISBN 9780415821971, $145.00; ISBN 9780203370421 ebook, contact publisher for price (reviewed in CHOICE July 2014).
Boykoff (Pacific Univ.) argues that the Olympics have become a spectacle of “celebration capitalism,” a “public-private partnership” in which the taxpayers assume the risk and wealthy capitalists reap the rewards. Boykoff focuses on the last four Olympics (Athens, Beijing, Vancouver, and London). A pattern emerges: Olympic bidders lowball the costs of the holding the games while emphasizing the benefits to the host cities. Invariably, costs escalate and the public—which is excluded from the games due to the high cost of tickets—ends up holding the bag for cost overruns, maintaining facilities for which there is little use after the games, and seeing the promise of economic development evaporate. Celebration capitalism also leads to the “state of exception,” where normal governance procedures are dispensed with because of the “extraordinary circumstances” of mounting the games. Particularly since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “security” costs have skyrocketed, and the games have become an excuse for the militarization of law enforcement in the host communities as well as a basis for limiting civil liberties, lest the games be disrupted. Boykoff concludes by observing that Sochi (site of the 2014 Winter Olympics) and Rio de Janeiro (site of the 2016 Summer Olympics) are continuing the pattern of celebration capitalism. —Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels.

Cha, Victor D. Beyond the final score: the politics of sport in Asia. Columbia, 2009. 182p index afp ISBN 9780231154901, $27.95 (reviewed in CHOICE October 2009).
This volume by Cha (Georgetown Univ.) offers an amazingly pleasing and penetrating probe into the 2008 Beijing Olympics within the context of the politics of sport. The book contains seven chapters and a brief postscript. Chapter 1 examines the relationship between sport and politics. Chapter 2 explains how sport and national pride are intertwined, how sport facilitates diplomacy, and how sport acts as an engine of change in world politics. Chapter 3 elucidates sport as a powerful prism through which national identity gets refracted. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 illustrate how sport offers a tactful tool for diplomatic statecraft, and serves as an agent of physical and political change. Chapter 7 suggests that sport is not just spectacle and that it can generate internal and external pressures for change that are difficult to ignore. The author believes that both the international community and the Chinese people expect the Chinese authorities to do better and that “if they can hit the mark [it] would bring the country far more international acceptance than any Olympics could.” —Summing Up: Highly recommended. All undergraduate, graduate, and research collections.

D’Agati, Philip A. The Cold War and the 1984 Olympic Games: a Soviet-American surrogate war. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 197p bibl index ISBN 9781137330611, $90.00 (reviewed in CHOICE April 2014).
This study looks at the role of sports during the Cold War. The focus of the book is on the Summer Olympic Games of 1976 as well as 1980 and 1984 when first the US and then the Soviet Union failed to participate in the respective Summer Olympics. D’Agati (Northeastern Univ.) examines the subject by applying political science methods and theory while connecting sports drama with the leading trends in international relations during the decades of the Cold War. D’Agati shows how Soviet authorities used sports as a tool to demonstrate the advantages of their system over capitalism. The book is well written; the language is accessible both to professionals and those who have just begun to learn about the dismantled Soviet Union. In the time line of events presented in the beginning of the book, D’Agati should have identified Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko not as the premiers but rather as the leaders of the Soviet Union. This volume is recommended to readers who are interested in Soviet sports and culture, particularly to students and general readers. —Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate collections.

Large, David Clay. Munich 1972: tragedy, terror, and triumph at the Olympic Games. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 372p index afp ISBN 9780742567399, $29.95; ISBN 9780742567412 ebook, contact publisher for price (reviewed in CHOICE November 2012).
This timely book reminds readers that politics have always shaped the Olympic Games. A respected authority on the Third Reich, Large (Montana State Univ.; Nazi Games, CH, May’08, 45-5059) explains how the XX Olympic Games in Munich marked a turning point in Olympic and sports history generally. He thoroughly details the murder of Israeli athletes by pro-Palestine Black September terrorists. The author’s description is especially valuable because he places the attack within the larger contexts of contemporary international tensions (Cold War, Vietnam War protests, African decolonization, Middle Eastern conflicts) and West Germany’s attempt to distance itself from the so-called “Nazi Olympics” of 1936 Berlin. Munich 1972 also describes the first superexpensive Olympic Games, complete with artist competitions, extravagant ceremonies, and huge building projects. Large pays great attention to the competition itself and writes vibrantly about many sports. The book therefore nicely blends the work of scholar and fan. While his nuanced picture of West Germany’s security failures sheds light on the modern history of Germany and sports, overall Large does not break new scholarly ground. His pitch is broader. This thoughtful, readable piece on a major event of the modern era will appeal to many people. —Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers and undergraduates.

Lenskyj, Helen Jefferson. Gender politics and the Olympic industry. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 159p bibl index ISBN 9781137291141, $57.00 (reviewed in CHOICE August 2013).
Lenskyj (emer., Univ. of Toronto, Canada) continues her assault on the hegemony of the Olympic movement, which she refers to as the Olympic industry. She argues that the Olympic Games are all about profit and that the International Olympic Committee is a great hypocrisy, an amoral group (of mostly men) that cares not for the societal and personal damage inflicted by the Games. She provides numerous examples throughout the history of the modern Olympics. The presentation is quite one-sided, but, of course, it is meant to be, and the author need not make any apologies for focusing on sexploitation and overt discrimination in the Olympics, and on other disparities based on gender, class, race, and ethnicity. This is certainly not a feel-good presentation of the goodwill, sportsmanship, and competition often attributed to the Olympics. Rather, it exposes the dark side of the organization, the media coverage, and the impact of the Games. The arguments are presented with great literary finesse, and may leave the reader wondering if there is any redeeming value in the Olympic movement —Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduate students and above.

Maraniss, David. Rome 1960: the Olympics that changed the world. Simon & Schuster, 2008. 478p bibl index ISBN 9781416534075, $26.95 (reviewed in CHOICE October 2008).
In this well-written, well-researched book (with a lot of new information gleaned from interviews), Maraniss—associate editor of The Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winner, and biographer of Bill Clinton (First in His Class, 1995), Vince Lombardi (When Pride Still Mattered, 1999), and Roberto Clemente (Clemente, CH, Nov’06, 44-1588)—thoroughly examines all aspects of the 1960 Summer Olympics. The author gives particular attention to the most prominent athletes, including decathlete Rafter Johnson, sprinter Wilma Rudolph, marathoner Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, and boxer Cassius Clay. He does a wonderful job putting the reader into the minds of the athletes and journalists, and of government agents looking for possible defectors. Maraniss goes to great lengths to argue that the 1960 Olympics changed the world. These games saw the first doping scandal, were the first commercially televised Summer Games, featured the first athlete paid to wear running shoes, and were marked by the presence of many new African nations. Among the games’ political issues: the inclusion of two Chinas, a unified team for Germany, and efforts to boycott South African countries. Although few historians will be convinced that the 1960 games were as important as the 1936, 1969, or 1972 games, this is still an excellent read. —Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers, all levels.

Olympic legacies: intended and unintended, ed. by J. A. Mangan and Mark Dyreson. Routledge, 2010. 254p bibl index ISBN 9780415550161, $125.00 (reviewed in CHOICE July 2010).
For more than a hundred years, the Olympic Games have been the most eminent of all global sporting events. Indeed, the Olympic Games truly internationalized sport, breaking down broad, universal boundaries. The media and individual nations did not begin to promote the games until the 1930s, but once that happened, the Olympic movement extended to every corner of the world. Today, the combination of television, international funding, and international prestige provide a platform for this colossal event. First published as a special issue of International Journal of the History of Sport, the present collection focuses on how the Olympic Games have affected cities such as Athens, Beijing, and Sydney: it considers the lasting legacies. These legacies include extraordinary accomplishments, impressive venues, flawless achievements, and total disasters—everything from incredible inaugurations of Olympic host cities and countries to infamous crusades of national hypocrisy. Mangan (emer., Univ. of Strathclyde, Scotland) and Dyreson (Pennsylvania State Univ.) bring together analyses of both the positive and negative legacies, from the first games of the modern era (Athens, 1896) to the most recent summer games (Beijing, 2008). —Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, general readers.

The Olympics and philosophy, ed. by Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin. University Press of Kentucky, 2012. 295p index afp ISBN 9780813136486, $40.00; ISBN 9780813140711 ebook, contact publisher for price (reviewed in CHOICE January 2013).
Part of the “Philosophy of Popular Culture” series, this collection features well-crafted and often provocative essays. While all the articles share an appreciation for “Olympism” (the Games’ philosophy of life) and for the motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius, readers will discover interesting divergences as they explore race and gender issues, international politics, steroid doping, and a deeper understanding of Greek and moral philosophy in light of the Olympic Games. By recognizing the intent of the modern Games to be a philosophical event, one finds that a phenomenological, intersubjective approach makes perfect sense. Contributors explore philosophical ideals that were the bedrock for Pierre de Coubertin’s vision, but also discuss gender issues and confrontations that challenge these boundaries, and how the Games have become a platform for racial and political voices. The games are lived philosophy, living aesthetic events, and even moral classrooms, showcasing the best the world has to offer. Should the Games award medals for moral virtuosity? Does the International Olympic Committee have a moral reason to ban performance-enhancing drugs? This volume offers challenging essays with wide-ranging appeal. —Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.

Schiller, Kay. The 1972 Munich Olympics and the making of modern Germany, by Kay Schiller and Christopher Young. California, 2010. 348p bibl index afp (Weimar and now, 42) ISBN 9780520262133, $65.00; ISBN 9780520262157 pbk, $24.95 (reviewed in CHOICE February 2011).
The entangling of sports and international politics never played well, a point made in more than a dozen scholarly histories of the racial subtext of the so-called Nazi Olympics of l936, in which African American Jesse Owens dominated over the best that Nazi Germany offered. Schiller (history, Durham Univ., UK) and Young (German studies, Univ. of Cambridge, UK) point out the parallels between the Nazi Olympics and 1972 games in Munich: in Munich, Palestinian terrorists, the Black September, used the games to underscore their political aims by murdering some dozen Israeli athletes. The series in which this book appears concerns itself with “German cultural criticism,” and the authors probe deep into both German and international archives. They weave into the narrative of the games subtexts of Germans striving to live down their Nazi past, aiming for reunification, and seeking a new place in world of post-Cold War economic modernism. The authors’ task is daunting, but they largely achieve their goal. —Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.

Watching the Olympics: politics, power and representation, ed. by John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson. Routledge, 2012. 258p bibl index ISBN 9780415578325, $140.00; ISBN 9780415578332 pbk, $49.95; ISBN 9780203852200 ebook, contact publisher for price (reviewed in CHOICE April 2012).
Sugden (sociology, Univ. of Brighton, UK) and Tomlinson (leisure studies, Univ. of Brighton) have compiled 14 essays on today’s Olympic phenomenon—its development from historical event to present-day display of politics, power, and representation. The volume focuses especially on the 2012 London games, critically assessing the bidding process, financing, promised legacy, and effects of hosting. Each chapter raises important issues about the “remaking” of the Olympic Games—for example, questions surrounding Pierre De Coubertin’s Olympic ideals and the modern Olympic Games; anti-doping policies and the continuing threats of drug use; the enduring cultural displays (Olympic films, the torch relay, the cultural Olympiad); the role of the athlete within this mega-event (inconsistencies and unfairness of sex testing, qualifying disabilities, the paralympic athlete, and exploitation of youth to suit the agenda of the Olympic Games); politicizing of the games through the eyes of journalism; increased surveillance and security concerns. In sum, this is an in-depth analysis of the hidden Olympic network and the impact of a mega sporting event on local and global society. —Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers.