The Olympics are about much more than just sport, and reading books about them a great way to reflect on their broader significance. On Friday July 23rd, 2021 the opening ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will finally take place and the Olympic torch is currently making its way around Japan. As far as we know, it's the first time the Olympic Games have ever been postponed, though they've been cancelled three times, once during World War I (1916) and twice during World War II (1940 and 1944).
The modern Olympics were loosely based on the ancient Olympics, the Panhellenic games held in Greece in honour of Zeus, often bringing together warring cities. The ancient games took place every four years, and did so, uninterrupted, for more than a millennium. Only Greek-born men were allowed to attend and they had to compete naked. If you're interested in the ancient Olympic Games, we highly recommend The Ancient Olympics by Cambridge classicist Nigel Spivey.
The Olympics in their current form were largely the creation of French academic Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee. Before doing so, he toured the world and saw the various versions of Olympic games (some more eccentric than others) that were being held in, for example, Greece and the UK. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.
All our book recommendation interviews related to the Olympic Games are listed below.
The Olympics are one of the world’s great celebrations of sport. Here Philip Barker, Olympic historian and sports journalist, chooses five books that help you to understand the games, their origins and their traditions—and to relive the sporting drama of past Olympic Games.
The Politics of the Olympic Games
by Richard Espy
Five Ring Circus: Money, Power, and Politics at the Olympic Games
by Alan Tomlinson and Garry Whannel
The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money, and Drugs in the Modern Olympics
by Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings
Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics, and Activism
by Helen Jefferson Lenskyj
Hosting the Olympic Games: the Real Costs for Cities
by John Rennie Short
The Olympics are big business—but the extent to which they benefit their host cities is increasingly called into question. They’ve also long been enmired in political controversy. Here Helen J Lenskyj, the academic and anti-Olympics activist, discusses the malign influence of big business, and the inseparability of sport and politics, as she chooses her best books on the bad side of the Olympics.
As the Olympics open, David Runciman looks back at the two previous times that the Games have been staged in London and finds that the thrift of today looks modest compared with austerities of the past