The Olympics is the pinnacle of athletic achievement, and it is a subject that has captivated readers for generations. Whether you are an athlete, a sports enthusiast, or simply someone who enjoys reading, there are a plethora of books on the Olympics that can offer you valuable insight and entertainment. In this article, we have compiled a list of the best books on the Olympics that are worth your time and money.
A Brief Olympic History
What we all know as the "Olympics" were originally inspired by the ancient Olympic Games that were held in Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The Olympics of that time were part of a religious festival to honor Zeus.
The modern Olympic Games were founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator and sports enthusiast, who sought to promote international cooperation and understanding through sports. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896, with 14 countries participating in 43 events in nine different sports.
Since then, the Olympic Games have grown in size and importance, with over 200 countries now participating in the Summer and Winter Olympics, which are held on alternating four-year cycles. The Summer Olympics feature a wide range of sports, including track and field, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and soccer, while the Winter Olympics focus on sports such as skiing, skating, and ice hockey.
The Olympics have also become a major cultural event, with the opening and closing ceremonies showcasing the host country's history, culture, and artistic talent. The Olympic Games have been held in some of the world's most iconic cities, including Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, and Rio de Janeiro.
Throughout its history, the Olympics have faced a number of challenges and controversies, including political boycotts, doping scandals, and concerns over the cost and environmental impact of hosting the Games. Nevertheless, the Olympic Games continue to captivate audiences around the world and inspire young athletes to pursue their dreams of Olympic glory.
Why Read One Of These Books?
It's a great question, and I'm glad you asked. For me, it comes down to 3 reasons:
1. Books on any topic provide perspective. The Olympics, in particular, have represented so much more than just sports. Some of the stories below shaped history, not just in the United States, but around the world. As a fan of history, reading these books gave me a new outlook on how certain things came to be and also invoked a spirit of patriotism.
2. Knowledge. For every one of these books, I learned something. At any age, it's easy to say that we know it all, but wisdom tells us that we don't. Being open to learning and having resources like these are a tremendous gift.
3. Last, I think it's important to have an expectation of enjoyment when you pick up a book. Nobody wants to read a bunch of boring recollections. All the books below kept me engaged and were hard to put down.
Must Read Olympic Books
We decided to break the list below down into three sections that cover Olympic history, training, and corruption. Of course, some of these books blur all three, but hopefully the sections will help you navigate based on your interests.
1. Books on The History of the Olympics
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown's "The Boys in the Boat" is an inspiring story of the University of Washington rowing team that won a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book is a masterpiece of narrative non-fiction that immerses the reader in the journey of the nine boys who overcame adversity to achieve Olympic glory.
The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition
David Wallechinsky's "The Complete Book of the Olympics" is an encyclopedic guide to the history and culture of the Olympics. This book offers a comprehensive overview of the games, from their ancient Greek roots to the modern-day mega-events. With detailed profiles of past Olympians, chronicles of memorable moments, and summaries of every sport, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the Olympics.
This is a riveting account of the controversial victory of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin. The book offers an in-depth look at the political climate leading up to the games and the role Owens' four gold medals played in exposing Hitler's theories of Aryan supremacy. Schaap skillfully weaves together stories of Owens' background, training, and experiences during the Olympics with the broader historical context of the time. The book offers a compelling narrative of a pivotal moment in sports and world history.
The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
David Goldblatt's "The Games" is a sweeping history of the Olympic games that covers the geopolitical, cultural, and social forces that have shaped the games over the past century. This book is a compelling read that explores the intersection of sports and politics, and it offers a critical perspective on the Olympics as a reflection of global society.
"Hitler's Olympics" is a non-fiction book that delves into the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany, under the rule of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The book provides a detailed account of how Hitler used the Olympics as a propaganda tool to showcase the supposed superiority of the Aryan race and promote his political ideology to the world. The book also examines the political climate of the time, including the growing tensions leading up to World War II, and how the international community responded to Hitler's use of the Olympics for political gain. Through interviews, archival research, and analysis, the book sheds light on this controversial and often overlooked chapter in Olympic history.
Fire On The Track
This is a fascinating account of the first women's track and field Olympics in 1928. Betty Robinson was a high-school student, running in only her fourth organized track meet of her career. Yet, she goes to Amsterdam, captures Olympic gold, and becomes the fastest woman in the world. Betty later almost dies in a plane crash, but her impact on women's running (and sports overall) is never forgotten. This also made our list of Best Track & Field Books.
The Olympic Games Explained: A Student Guide to the Evolution of the Modern Olympic Games
Jim Parry's "The Olympic Games Explained" is a concise and accessible guide to the history of the Olympics. This book covers the evolution of the games from their ancient origins to the modern-day spectacle. With a focus on the cultural significance of the Olympics, this book is an excellent resource for students and casual readers alike.
The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It
Neal Bascomb's "The Perfect Mile" is a thrilling account of the race to break the four-minute mile barrier in the 1950's. Three men, all from different countries, changed the world perspective at a time when the Korean War, atomic race, and other famous athletes were dominating headlines. This book made our coveted Top 10 Sports Books of All Time list and well-worth a read.
2. Books on Olympic Athletes & Training
Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes
Mark McClusky's "Faster, Higher, Stronger" is an illuminating exploration of the science behind the Olympic games. This book takes a deep dive into the cutting-edge technology, training techniques, and nutrition strategies that are helping athletes break records and push the limits of human performance. If you want to understand what it takes to be an Olympic champion in the modern era, this book is a must-read.
A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey
Chrissie Wellington's "A Life Without Limits" is a memoir of the British triathlete who dominated the sport in the late 2000s. Wellington's journey to Olympic gold is an inspiring tale of determination, perseverance, and passion. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it takes to be an elite athlete.
Beneath The Surface
Phelps shares his personal story, detailing the highs and lows of his life and career. He describes his early experiences in the pool, his intense training regimen, and the mindset that propelled him to become an Olympic champion. Phelps also discusses his struggles with depression and anxiety, as well as his brushes with the law and his eventual decision to seek help. If you're a Michael Phelps fan, also check out "No Limits", which we featured on our list of Best Swimming Books.
Courage to Soar
Biles received a lot of uncalled for criticism when she stepped away from the 2021 summer Olympic games to focus on her mental health. With 4 gold medals already to her name, Biles is a champion, fun personality, mental health advocate, and role model for a lot of young gymnasts. If you enjoy books written by athletes, this should be on your list. This book was also included in our 4 of the Best Sports Books For Your Teen Daughter
3. Books on Olympic Corruption
Brazil's Dance With The Devil
"Brazil's Dance with the Devil" by Dave Zirin is a non-fiction book that provides a critical analysis of Brazil's hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The book explores the social, economic, and political costs of hosting these mega-events, which have often resulted in the displacement of the poor, the exploitation of workers, and the enrichment of the wealthy. Zirin argues that the Brazilian government's decision to host these events was driven by a desire to showcase the country's economic progress and global power, rather than to address the needs of its citizens. The book also delves into the social and political context of Brazil, including issues of poverty, inequality, and corruption, that led to the country's controversial decision to host these events. Overall, "Brazil's Dance with the Devil" provides a powerful critique of the negative impact of mega-sporting events on host communities, and raises important questions about the priorities and values of the global sports industry.
Award-winning journalist Michael Gillard digs in to expose the tangled web of chief executives, big banks, politicians and dirty money that surrounded the 2012 London Olympics. Gillard's ability to piece things together led to a landmark court case, putting one of London's most notorious gangsters on trial.
The Second Mark
Goodwin writes a fantastic book on the corruption surrounding couples figure skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City winter olympics. Pairs from China, Russia, and Canada remained in contention for the gold medal. When a French judge makes a confession, the integrity of the competition is shattered.
The Lords of the Rings
Simson and Jennings write an expose about the powerful men that ran the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The amount of corruption, greed, and lies uncovered in this book makes you shake your head.
For Additional Resources
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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