2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2012
The intersection of sports and politics - perhaps "collision" is more apt - never possessed more poignancy than the 1972 Munich Olympics. Who better then to chronicle that story than the historian, David Clay Large, author of a definitive work on its only rival, the 1936 Berlin Olympiad? ("Nazi Games" .)
German soil provides obvious continuity, but there are other ties too, most prominently in the person of Willi Daume, former Nazi and member of the 1936 German Olympic basketball squad, who as a post-war German sports official became the chief proponent of Munich's bid to host the Games. Daume is joined by the persistent figure of International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, who as head of the USOC in 1936 rejected the effort to mount a games boycott against Nazi racism.
Today, four decades later, Black September's attack upon Israel's Olympic team so thoroughly overshadows the athletes' performances, that the latter are about as well-remembered as the identity of that year's long-forgotten mascot, "Waldi" the Bavarian Dachshund. To his credit, Large weaves the athletes' feats, some prodigious - Mark Spitze's seven gold medals, Olga Korbut's gymnastic triumphs, into the unfolding drama of attempted kidnapping and violence.
The Cold War politics of two Germanys, the surreal U.S.-Soviet championship basketball game with two endings, a drug-testing regime more laughable than real, all make their way smoothly into Large's engaging narrative.
The ultimate reward of "Munich 1972" is its contribution to the place of a quadrennial cult-of-the-body festival in the world. In this sense it's a highly serious work; it's also a darn good read.
Howard De Nike, Cultural Anthropologist
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2012
Frank Rettenberg, Retired Foreign Service Officer
My first reaction to this book was "Why hasn't anyone written a comprehensive history of the Munich Olympics before? True, there is a substantial body of literature covering the Black September attack on member of the Israeli team, but this Olympics included so much more of compelling intrest, both to sports history buffs and veterans of the cold war like myself: stellar athletic achievements, marred by amateurish officiating and the consumption of "performance enhancing drugs;" the first major exploitation of the Olympic Games for commercial as well as political purposes; efforts by both the Soviet bloc and the West to use the Games for their competing propaganda objectives; and the furious jockeying between East and West Germany for recognition as THE sovereign state representing all German citizens. Prof. Large has mined old files and records for a wealth of fascinating detail, but does not allow all the nuiggets he has unearthed to stand in the way of telling a good story. He gives every topic, every controversy, its due, and while the Palestinian assault is covered in full, significantly, it occupies far less than half of the entire book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2012
David Clay Large's MUNICH 1972 will be a fascinating read for many and was a page-turner for me. Large not only proves here as in previous books that it IS possible to write well-researched and beautifully-written history for laypersons. He examines every imaginable aspect of the Olympics enterprise in an engaging way. Anybody who has attended (or even watched on TV) the quadrennial rituals will be enlightened by his thorough and unromantic analysis of the political, financial, psychological, media and (yes, that too!) athletic aspects of these Games. Having lived through one (Rome 1960) as a young reporter, I found his insider view explained a lot of the bizarre aspects I had never quite grasped about "my" Olympic experience. Large illuminates why disappointment and disillusionment have often accompanied, at least since 1972, the hype and real athletic achievements of the Olympiads.
Aside from these insights, Large delivers a careful and balanced comment on the insouciance (at least) of the organizers about Security - leading to the tragedy of the Black September hostage crisis with the death of Israeli team members - as well as serious questions about the ability of any host city since to provide both safety and a good time for all, let alone what all host cities aspire to: a chance for urban development with no dire consequences of financial burdens or international shame. In this respect the book makes a serious contribution to the economic and social history of postwar Germany, as well.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
David Clay Large's book, "Munich 1972", is a well-written examination of the 1972 Olympics. Beginning with the background of the games - why was Munich chosen as the host city, particularly after the memories of the Berlin 1936 Summer games - and how did internal West German politics play out in the "landing" of the Games. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG - West Germany) was in heated competition with the German Democratic Republic (GDR - East Germany) on a whole range of issues, beginning with the "politics of sport" and ending with the "sport of politics". And if the two Germanys were at odds, so were various other countries and political systems. The sentiment of Muncheners was not always in favor of hosting the Games; cost overruns, overcrowding, and just general disruptions of daily activities during the Games clouded the positives that came with the "honor" of being awarded the 1972 Olympic games. But, as is usually the case, the politicians won out and Munich was chosen.
In the six year run-up to the Olympics, factions worked together on all parts of the presentation of the games. Special thought was given to security at the games but the memories of the Berlin 1936 games with oppressive, heavy security was also in the mix. No one wanted a repeat of those games and so police and other Munich officials erred on the side of putting basically unarmed men as guards at the Olympic village for these "friendly" Olympics. The Village itself was not surrounded by high fences and there was little stopping of athletes coming and going. All was going well until the evening of September 5th.
I think people today have tended to forget the terror groups who were active in the 1970's and 1980's. Certainly there were many; the list included German radicals, the IRA, and, of course, Arabs protesting Jordan's King Hussein, Egypt, and Israel. It was "Black September", whose murky origins and beliefs were splayed onto the front pages of newspapers and televisions world-wide, who kidnapped and murdered nine Israeli athletes from their apartments in the Olympic Village. Helped along by the inept response of the German government security services, the world was again looking at Jews murdered on German soil. The powers-that-be of the games - Avery Brundage among them - don't come out looking too good in their response to continuing the games after the massacre.
Author Large does a good job at fitting the "terror" parts of the Munich games together, but doesn't fail at looking at the triumphs of many of the athletes who competed there. It's a good, all-round telling of those
games and their hopes for a coming-together of athletes that ended in tragedy.
on December 3, 2012
I'm only about 25% through the book - but I'm finding it absolutely fascinating regarding the history, selection and run-up processes to the '72 Munich games. I was only 15 when the the games commenced and the ensuing events were broadcast all over the news. One can only cringe at the thought of this event happening now in this era of "fill 24 hours with the event at all costs" mandate. Anyways, the horrible events notwithstanding, it's a great look at the background processes that were in place (and still probably are) in place to get a city selected for an Olympiad. If nothing else, the book is exquisite in it's detail regarding that process. As I said, I was 15 when that Olympiad took place. Three years ago, My wife and were actually THERE in Munich visiting the Olympic village (and viewing Munich and the Village from the Munich TV tower on a very windy day) trying to imagine the events that occurred there. I hope to gain more than just a simple understanding of the sad events that occurred. The history provided on the back story of the Olympiad being placed there, and the problems and challenges faced by the organizers, from everything to cost overruns to the failures in security are here. So the events and places have come to life for me in reading this. Even though I'm not finished with it, I give it TWO THUMBS UP!
ADDENDUM: I am now about 2/3 of the way through the book. I still give it two thumbs up, but I've found a couple of discrepancies. As I was reading descriptions of the sporting events and competition, I had another browser window up, where I used YouTube to pull up video for whatever it was I was reading about at the time. This gives me some more context and realism to the reading. In one instance, Large described actions of the terrorists in gaining access to the Olympic Village - and that some of the terrorists were aided in jumping a chain link fence by drunken American athletes. It actually has been admitted that Canadian Water Polo players unwittingly assisted the terrorists. "Robert Thompson was a Canadian Water Polo player at the 1972 Munich Games during the Black September hostage crisis. He tells the story of what happened the night terrorists entered the Olympic village. Video by Steve Russell."
Also, during the narrative describing the closing ceremonies and Avery Brundage's closing speech, Large noted when Brundage was departing the stage, the large sign in the stadium displayed "Thank you Avery Bandage", when in fact, it said "Thank you Avery Brandage". Just wanted to be clear in that as I pulled up a video on the closing ceremony.
The 1972 Munich Olympics will forever be identified with the massacre of eleven members of the Israeli team by members of the Black September terrorist group. It is, understandably, the most logical icon of those Games. In fact, other than a few images or video clips of Mark Spitz, Olga Korbut or the masked Black September gunman on the dormitory balcony, there really isn't enough information available for anything else to be associated with the Munich Olympics. Thankfully, with MUNICH 1972, David Large fills that void with zeal and offers the complete story of the "most beautiful Olympics ever to have been wrecked" .
Considering the author was actually in Munich during those Olympic Games (as a grad student working on a dissertation, not as a spectator), there is a sense that this book was written to satisfy his own quest for understanding the tragic event that unfolded down the road from him; as he is so thorough in his approach to the subject matter. Covering every imaginable facet of the 72 Olympics, from the controversy of Munich being awarded host-city status to the immediate and long-term aftermath of the Games and everything in-between, Large makes a case that Munich may arguably be the most important Olympics of the modern era. Rather than focusing solely on the obvious (the massacre), Large reminds us that up until the tragic event, the Games provided some astounding athletic performances that seemed destined to make Munich one of the most successful Olympics ever. This detailed, balanced and rather unbiased overview of the entire 72 Olympics proved to be a fascinating and educational read. We get the good, the bad and the very ugly facts behind this tragic event.
Large dedicates the first third of the book to the build-up to the Games. Starting with the controversial decision to award host city status to the birthplace of the Nazi Party, readers are reminded of the last time Germany hosted an Olympics, under Hitler. Large details the painstaking efforts of West Germany and Munich took to prove to the world that a new Germany had arisen from the ashes of its destructive past ... the Munich Games were to be a showcase of this rebirth. Paralleling this story of Munich's herculean attempt to rebrand itself (and Germany) is the rumbling of the global political violence that existed at the time (including trouble from its estranged brother-country, East Germany). It is clear that the planners knew the likelihood of the Munich Olympics being targeted for a violent political statement was high to almost certain. I was astonished to read that months before the Games started, a security advisor pretty much laid-out a potential Palestinian terrorist attack ("scenario 21") in the exact manner in which it actually happened. And while security was important in theory it was superseded by the effort to soften reminders of Germany's Nazi past (pastel jackets and baseball hats in lieu of anything remotely militant-looking). In other words, the door was left wide open for anyone with ill intentions.
The remaining two-thirds of the book are dedicated to the two weeks the Games played out. What is sometimes difficult to remember is that the athletic performances at Munich were quite stellar. Rather than a glossing overview of the athletics, Large opts to provide intimate and colorful details of a variety of events, their participants and eventual outcomes. An excellent overview that is full of interesting obscure stories and controversies. I felt that the author's thorough attention to sports at the Munich Games was integral in making the book balanced and complete. Following the the first week of events, comes the chapter dedicated to the day of the Black September attack. Again, the author provides explicit detail that puts readers at the horrific scene and takes us through the tragedy, step-by-step, from the hostage-taking to the disastrous "rescue attempt" at a nearby airfield. Reading this chapter confirms that the security for entire Munich Games was nothing more than a house-of-cards and that most of the organizers were simply crossing their fingers, hoping to ride the good fortune of the first week all the way to the closing ceremony. The West German response to the crisis is characterized as being inept and helpless. Large does hand out a heap of blame to virtually everyone ... even Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is shown to have callously conceded the hostages' lives rather than accommodating the terrorists' demands. If there is one source of obvious bias exhibited by the author throughout the book, it is his obvious distaste for IOC President Avery Brundage, who infamously insisted the Games continue following the massacre. The final week of competition has a few bright moments, but readers will sense the Olympic spirit as being long gone as the controversy of continuing the games elicits a myriad of reactions from those athletes whose events were scheduled for that second week, after the massacre.
Thorough, informational and entertaining ... a totally absorbing read. Quite simply, MUNICH 1972 left me with no unanswered questions regarding the Munich Games, but a strong desire to share the fine details with others. I believe David Large has done a magnificent job documenting an event that, for 40 years, has been steeped in darkness and mystery. This book should appeal to anyone interested in sports and/or history. Reading it as the London Olympics are playing out gave the book more special meaning and certainly puts things in perspective.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2012
What a great topic deserving of its own volume: the fascinating 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich. I bought and started to read this book with great relish. Completing the read, I was a bit disappointed.
While a credible effort, the book was mildly difficult for me to get through due to the author's writing style. He uses expressions that are sort of childish, confrontational, and out of place, particularly on NON-controversial topics, thus he often does NOT seem as if he's a college professor at all. At one point, he stated that American quarter-miler John Smith would later "eat his words" in regard to a statement he'd made contrasting an apparent lack of excitement in 1972 Munich, West Germany with a fairly explosive atmosphere in Cali, Columbia, a year earlier. Such a comment ("eat his words") by an author is appropriate to say about someone else who may be guilty of something, such as lying. Better in this case to have written merely that Smith's comparison "was later proven to be false" or some such unemotional phrasing.
The author constantly appears to be an excitable, caustic sort, inserting negative opinions at many turns. He wrote in the intro: "I care about boxing, track, and swimming, for example; I don't give a fig about fencing or air-rifle shooting." I read that and wondered, WHY be so negative toward the latter sports?--and why, as an author, say "I don't give a fig" about ANYTHING??? That weirdly-harsh statement makes the author look like an angry 4-year-old, about something where anger simply seems oddly placed. A simple, non-caustic statement would do much better, such as, "I focused on the sports I care more about, such as boxing, track, and swimming," and would have read more professionally.
As a "professor," he could have avoided writing an utterly stupid comment he'd paraphrased, where he was clearly, actually, trying to be balanced. He wrote that, while he chooses to use the word "terror" in regard to the murder of the innocent Israeli athletes at Munich, the Palestinian viewpoint might well be that "no Israeli is 'innocent.'" Now, that is an utterly stupid remark by Palestinians, uttered all the time, and its inclusion in this book, coming as it did with no further commentary by the author, is insane. OF COURSE not ALL Israelis are guilty of ANYTHING in regard to the Palestinians, even if some MIGHT be--and I'm not saying that any are. But for this oft-repeated Palestinian viewpoint (used to justify the murder of Israeli babies to this day), to go unchallenged by an author who otherwise clearly evaluates and opines on all sides of this topic briefly in the section where this resides, is careless. NO nation's entire people-- that is, every last one of them-- is guilty of ANYTHING. Just as not all Germans were guilty of anything, necessarily, during WWII, for example. The author critiques much throughout the book, but "lets this one go" completely. He really shouldn't have mentioned the "no Israeli is 'innocent'" bit at all, and could have used instead some other of the usual Palestinian rationales in making his own point-- or at least knocked this one down if he'd felt compelled to use it.
I wondered, while reading, if the author was old enough to have remembered the Munich Games or was even alive at the time, as others of us were; because much of this reads as if he'd looked it all up. Though apparently he was a grad student, actually there at the time.
As to errors, in a passage on American swimming great Mark Spitz, the author actually refers to the man who later broke his record of 7 gold medals at one Olympics as "Mark" Phelps instead of the correct "Michael." Now, how many American authors of a book on the Olympics would screw that up?? I'm thinking-- just this guy. Maybe it's why he is relegated to being a "professor" in Montana, of all places, I don't know. But I have to think that if this book had an author plus an editor plus a fact checker plus a proofreader, that this mistake is unforgivable. Akin to saying that Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record was broken by "Joe" Aaron (instead of "Hank."). He refers to Rick DeMont, a Munich 1972 gold medalist, as "Richard" DeMont in the section describing DeMont's travails at Munich, despite getting it right when mentioning Rick in passing earlier in the book. (DeMont never used "Richard" in his sporting life.)
The narrative is actually much shorter than the 396 pages advertised, as it's got 78 pages of notes and other such material at the end included in that figure. This big topic deserved far more than 318 pages. Still, the book captures quite a bit of the feel and even the details of the 1972 games and the run-up to them, despite usually reading like a race through all the topics and facts. It is worth reading despite these significant imperfections. (Readers wanting works on this topic have few other choices!)
A book with a very fresh perspective on the Munich games, though with not nearly as much material on that one particular subject, is the late sportscaster, Howard Cosell's, best book (of his several books), simply called "Cosell," published a year after the Munich games, in 1973. Written by someone who was there and who was involved, albeit as a reporter, in several of the athletic controversies and the massacre of the Israeli athletes. A vivid read from cover to cover, bringing the chapters on the Munich Olympics VERY much to life.
Giving a proper treatment to the 1972 Munich Olympics is a complex task because the Black September hostage taking tends to act as the gigantic elephant in the room that everyone either remembers or wants to know something about. David Clay Large takes a different tack in Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph at the Olympic Games. While there are approx. two chapters that deal with the hostage taking, bumbled response by the West Germans and eventual repercussions that can still be felt during Olympic Games today. Large also dedicates significant portions of the book to the athletic competitions, the various political impediments and challenges to holding a games in Munich including: the Nazi Legacy, one or two Germanys, African boycotts, and Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union.
Beyond the international intrigues, there was also a battle within West Germany over how to construct and pay for the games [leaving aside the debate whether they were worth the cost]. This debate continues down to present times as we see less cities bidding to shoulder the cost of the Olympics. For those persons interested in cultural activities, there’s a section on German cultural attractions as well.
I consider David Clay Large’s Munich 1972 to be like a sampler because there’s a little bit of everything for different audiences, but readers will have to look elsewhere if they want to dig deeper on a given topic. It is overall, a good introduction to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
on February 21, 2014
Overall I thought this book was pretty good.
On the good side, it was interesting to hear about the actual events, and some of the achievements of athletes. Some of the buildup to Munich getting the games and building for it was interesting too, I stress "some". The 2 chapters on the terrorist attacks was riveting.
On the bad side, some of the buildup to the games in Munich was too long, and got boring. Also, more could have been said on the terrorist situation. 2 chapters left me wanting more. The obvious US bashing was bad and unnecessary.
Like I said I'm glad I read it. Some pitfalls here, but still good.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2012
I had expected much more from this book. Compared to the two more recent books on two previous summer Olympics: Rome 1960 and Something in the Air, this book is very disappointing. Far too much time was spent discussing how Munich was awarded these games and its preparation therefor and too little time, in my opinion was spent discussing the games. Moreover the author covered familiar territory regarding the actual games, such as Mark Spitz, the USA basketball team, etc, but did so without much depth. There were far too many other compelling stories which he could have chosen to cover which had not been covered in previous works. I did think that the portions of the book which discussed the hostage situation were very good, but again some depth could have been added. I thought the Epilogue was too long and take issue with the author's assertion that one of the reasons Egypt started the Yom Kippur War was in reaction to Israel's response to the terrorist attack. Finally, I read the book on Kindle and did not realize until the end of the book that there were 250 footnotes. No such warnings were posted in the text.
This is a very interesting and timely topic which could have been handled in a far better fashion.