Monday, July 30, 2012

A Passion for Victory

A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times. Benson Bobrick. 2012. Random House. 160 pages.

I definitely enjoyed reading Benson Bobrick's A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times. In this nonfiction book for children and teens, Bobrick chronicles the Olympic games.

In the first two chapters, Bobrick focuses on the Olympic Games in Greek and Roman times. He gives just enough detail to be fascinating. The games were definitely quite different than modern games! Including the fact that the boxing, I believe, could prove to be to the death.

Chapter three focuses on the movement in the nineteenth century to bring back the Olympic games. Chapter four focuses on the first few Olympic games of modern times: 1896 (Greece), 1900 (Paris), 1904 (St. Louis, Missouri). The 1900 and 1904 games were not ideal because of their combination with World Fairs. For example, the book points out that they spread out the events over five and half months. No opening or closing ceremonies. Not that the games were all bad, by any means. This was the first Olympics offering women's events (tennis, croquet). And archery, diving, and rowing made their debut. In fact, it seems like almost every Olympics held offered new sports, new events. (Similarly, some might disappear.) The 1904 games only had participants from twelve countries, but, most of the athletes were American, which could be why America won over 200 medals that year. If the 1900 games were too long--five months--the 1904 games might arguably have been too short--just six days! The chapter also focuses on prejudices and such bringing up the World's Fair and the exhibitions.

The marathon also included the first black South Africans (two Tswana tribesmen) to compete in the Olympics--though they weren't supposed to be in the race at all. They were part of the Boer War exhibit but had joined the race for fun. Even so, one finished ninth, and the other came in twelfth. The first to arrive at the finish line was Frederick Lorz, who had actually dropped out. (After the first nine miles, he had flagged down his manager, who gave him a lift for the rest of the way in his car.) But when he crossed the finish line on foot, he was hailed as the winner. He was soon found out, of course, but the real winner, Thomas Hicks, (a Briton running for the United States), deserved the prize even less. He had been doped up by his trainers, who gave him a near-fatal dose of strychnine sulfate mixed with egg yolk and brandy. Unable to cross the line on his own, he had to be supported in the last stretch and was rushed to a hospital, where he spent several days in intensive care. (65)

The fifth chapter chronicles the Olympic Games of 1908 through 1932. It also highlights the 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games. This one-time event gave the games new life. It was here that the opening ceremony and closing ceremonies made their debut. Several paragraphs--or several pages--are dedicated to each Olympics. All fascinating stuff! I couldn't hope to cover it all! Readers learn how each Olympics helped contribute to the Olympics we have today. For example, the 1920 Olympics set in place many lasting traditions including the Parade of Nations in the opening ceremonies and the medal ceremonies with the raising of the flags for the three winners and the National Anthem for the gold medal winner. Of course, some attention is paid to the athletes and winners. The star of this chapter, in my opinion, is Jim Thorpe.

The sixth chapter focuses on the 1936 games in Berlin, and the star, as you might have guessed, is Jesse Owens. This chapter, of course, deals with world politics and racism, etc.

The Epilogue focuses, for the most part, on the war years. But, it also highlights the film Olympia which was innovative and creative. The book discusses how this inspired the way the games was captured and shared. On a much sadder note, it mentions just a handful of Olympians whose lives were lost in the Holocaust.

Overall, this is one fascinating book! It has dozens--if not hundreds--of I didn't know that facts for readers to discover. So many intriguing stories, so many incredible details. I would definitely recommend this one!!!

I just loved it!!! I did NOT want it to end. I wanted more, needed more. I would have loved to learn about the games from 1948 to present day. But. This book is great at what it promises readers. 

Read A Passion for Victory
  • If you're a fan of the Olympics
  • If you're a fan of sports and/or history and/or politics
  • If you're interested in how sports have been celebrated and recorded in ancient and modern history

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

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