Glories and fiascos, triumphs and tragedies, records and near misses--all are included in this vivid history of the modern Olympics. Using as a backdrop the athletic events that draw television audiences in the billions, Allen Guttmann has written an interpretive social history of the games. What did the founders of the Olympic Games intend them to mean? And what have they, in the course of a century of tumultuous change, become? Guttmann probes the political, economic, social, and even religious significance of the games, presenting the most complete and readable account to date. In the broadest sense, Guttmann argues, politics has always been a part of the Olympics, not an occasional intruder whose presence may take the form of a boycott, protest, or act of terrorism. The book includes lively accounts of individual competitions. An early marathon through the streets of Paris, for example, brought complaints from the U.S. team that the course had been designed to allow French contestants to take shortcuts. Guttmann also provides insight into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering involved in site selection, as well as little-known facts about the general history of the games and about longtime IOC leader Avery Brundage.
Amherst American studies professor Guttmann ( The Games Must Go On ) rejects the contention that successive boycotts of the 1980 Moscow games by the U.S. and the 1984 Los Angeles games by the then-U.S.S.R. have politicized the Olympics. Instead, claims the author, the games were staunchly political in origin and have remained so. Guttmann regards Baron de Coubertin, their inventor, as an ardent Germanophobe and the 1936 Berlin games as merely an ad for Nazism. He cites the recent opposition of Arab states to the presence of Israel and the African states of the Union of South Africa and observes struggles between the two Chinas and the two Germanys, as well as the slaughter at Munich in 1972. While not ignoring the games proper, Guttmann ably fills in the background. Photos not seen by PW. (June)