Get Ready for the Olympics

Olympic ringsThe 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have their opening ceremonies this Friday, August 5 after which the games will really begin with everything from gymnastics, to track and field, to basketball, to dressage, to racewalking. When you’re not busy watching the games on TV or online and cheering for your favorite athletes, pick up one of these books to learn a little more about the history of the games and the athletes who participated in them or just to keep the Olympic spirit going. And don’t forget that our own Summer Reading program “Read for the Win” ends this Saturday, August 6 so make sure to log your books read and activities completed to finish the program and get a chance to win one of our amazing grand prizes!

The Boys in the Boat book coverThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism. The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

The Games book coverThe Games: A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt

Renowned sportswriter David Goldblatt has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal for writing “with the expansive eye of a social and cultural critic.” In The Games Goldblatt delivers a magisterial history of the biggest sporting event of them all: the Olympics. He tells the epic story of the Games from their reinvention in Athens in 1896 to the present day, chronicling classic moments of sporting achievement from Jesse Owens to Nadia Comaneci, the Miracle on Ice to Usain Bolt. He goes beyond the medal counts to explore how international conflicts have played out at the Olympics, including the role of the Games in Fascist Germany and Italy, the Cold War, and the struggles of the postcolonial world for recognition. He also tells the extraordinary story of how women fought to be included on equal terms, how the Paralympics started in the wake of World War II, and how the Olympics reflect changing attitudes to race and ethnicity.

Off Balance book coverOff Balance by Dominique Moceanu

At fourteen years old, Dominique Moceanu was the youngest member of the 1996 US Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team, the first and only American women’s team to take gold at the Olympics. Her pixyish appearance and ferocious competitive drive quickly earned her the status of media darling. But behind the fame, the flawless floor routines, and the million-dollar smile, her life was a series of challenges and hardships.

Off Balance vividly delineates each of the dominating characters who contributed to Moceanu’s rise to the top, from her stubborn father and long-suffering mother to her mercurial coach, Bela Karolyi. Here, Moceanu finally shares the haunting stories of competition, her years of hiding injuries and pain out of fear of retribution from her coaches, and how she hit rock bottom after a public battle with her parents. But medals, murder plots, drugs, and daring escapes aside (all of which figure into Moceanu’s incredible journey), the most unique aspect of her life is the family secret that Moceanu discovers, opening a new and unexpected chapter in her adult life. A mysterious letter from a stranger reveals that she has a second sister—born with a physical disability and given away at birth—who has nonetheless followed in Moceanu’s footsteps in an astonishing way.

A multilayered memoir that transcends the world of sports, Off Balance will touch anyone who has ever dared to dream of a better life.

The Games book coverThe Games by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

Two years ago Jack Morgan–the head of the renowned worldwide investigation firm Private–was in charge of security for the World Cup. During the championship match, the action nearly spilled from the field into the stands. Fortunately, Jack and his Private team averted disaster on soccer’s biggest stage. Now he has returned to Rio to secure the Olympics. But before the torch is lit, the threats come fast and furious when Jack discovers that someone in Brazil will stop at nothing to sabotage the games. As the opening ceremonies near, Jack must sprint to the finish line to defuse a lethal plot set in motion during the World Cup that could decimate Rio, and turn the Olympics from a worldwide celebration into a deadly spectacle.

Triumph book coverTriumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

In 1936, against a backdrop of swastikas flying and storm troopers goose-stepping, an African-American son of sharecroppers won a staggering four Olympic gold medals and single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy. The story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 games is that of a high-profile athlete giving a performance that transcends sports. But it is also the intimate and complex tale of the courage of one remarkable man.

From the start, American participation in the 1936 games was controversial. A boycott was afoot, based on reports of Nazi hostility to Jews, but was thwarted by the president of the American Olympic Committee, who dismissed the actions of the Third Reich as irrelevant. At the games themselves the subplots and intrigue continued: Owens was befriended by a German rival, broad jumper Luz Long, who, legend has it, helped Owens win the gold medal at his own expense. Two Jewish sprinters were denied the chance to compete for the United States at the last possible moment, most likely out of misguided deference to the Nazi hosts. And a myth was born that Hitler had snubbed Owens by failing to congratulate him. Schaap reveals what really transpired over those tense, exhilarating few weeks some seventy years ago. In the end, Triumph illuminates what happens when sports and geopolitics collide on a world stage.

The Complete Book of the Olympics book coverThe Complete Book of the Olympics by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky

Every sports writer assigned to cover the Games ensures they have their early copy of this prodigious work of reference, packed with absorbing anecdotes and essential statistics. A treasure trove of 116 years of Olympic history, it is also an amazingly readable book, for in the course of recording every single Olympic final since 1896, it concentrates on the strange, the memorable, and the unbelievable. Who knew (until reading this book) that croquet was once an Olympic sport, or tug of war, or that a 72-year-old once won a silver medal for target shooting? This new edition also has every finals result, recorded by the top eight competitors in every event at the Beijing Olympics, and full descriptions of rules and scoring for every event included for 2012. It is the one truly essential Olympics book.

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