Goodness me, a long gap with few reviews – I’ve been busily buried in Substantial Books, and have had an awful lot of work on, too, which has caused a bit of a perfect storm in the reading and reviewing department. Rather horrifically, it’s almost time for my Iris Murdoch round-up then Mount TBR time again, and I really don’t think it’s changed at all from the February picture, apart from having swapped “The Bell” for “The Unicorn” on the Murdoch Pile. Anyway, here’s a book my friend Meg kindly and cleverly gave me for my birthday last year: she knows I’m a bit obsessed with the Olympics and, indeed, it was a good time to be finishing this one off, watching the Winter Olympics!

David Goldblatt – “The Games”

(21 January 2017)

An exhaustive history of the Olympic Games, covering the founding of the modern Olympic movement and then going through every single summer and winter games, although concentrating more on the bidding, construction and political processes than anything but the most stand-out athletic performances. It’s already a big book and can’t be all things to all people, and it was fascinating to read all the well-researched detail.

The events of the Games are set well against the sweep of history, social movements and changes (or not, in the case of some sports) in social make-up of athlete groups. It treats the fascinating figure of the Baron De Coubertin in great detail, and his successors as head of the IOC in moderate amounts of detail, too. The first modern games amusingly gave birth to many of the modern tropes: will it be ready in time, feelings suddenly switching to the positive and massive media attention. It was interesting to learn that the first Games were very much adjuncts to a series of World Fairs and had to struggle to disentangle themselves from them.

Bigger topics such as women’s sporting events are introduced when they become salient and then have a section of a chapter devoted to them – it’s hard to see how else the author could have done this in a chronological treatment like this but it does lead to a bit of hopping backwards and forwards. It’s interesting to see alternatives such as trade union games, but unfortunately the Paralympics only gets a couple of paragraphs and inexplicably gets missed out of the index.

The book doesn’t shy away from the controversial and tragic or violent moments, whether that be Munich and Atlanta or various suppressions of popular movements or destruction of poor people’s housing to make way for stadiums. It looks interestingly at the role of televised media and the media sales and sponsorship that came with it, but seems to become more and more concerned with the corruption of, in turn, the IOC, the voting system, the political movements to put cities forward as hosts, the machinations of the tendering and construction processes and the athletes with their drug regimes. This and the more recent history of protests against the Games are important to know about and discuss, but the book seems to turn into one very long expose, with very few positives at all by the time we get to London 2012. I just can’t (bear to?) think that the whole thing is completely rotten from top to bottom. Knowing volunteers and officials in athletics, this seems a bit too one-sided.

The book redeems itself with details of the origin stories of the new extreme winter sports, with the lifestyles of the freeform skiers and snowboarders being rather different from the norm.

A carefully researched book which is full of interest and perhaps tries to do too many things in one book.

I’m in the middle of reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, which I had to pause while I waited for my new glasses to come, as the normal print is small and the additional information TINY – thank you ASDA opticians, who ramped up the reading part of my prescription and enabled me to continue reading it. I also have the Very Large “Rise Up, Women”, a history of the suffragette movement, to read for Shiny New Books. First new one to start will be Iris Murdoch’s “A Severed Head”, and with that I’ll be off to take pictures of all my copies …