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Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World Hardcover – July 1, 2008
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008: Armed with the same engaging narrative found in Clemente and When Pride Still Mattered, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss chronicles the triumphs, tragedies, and treacheries of "the Olympics that changed the world" with Rome 1960. The same Games that announced the greatness of icons like Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolph, and Rafer Johnson, also exposed a growing unrest between East and West, black and white, and male and female. Even the host city of Rome, Maraniss recounts, was "infused with a golden hue...an illuminating that comes with a moment of historical transition, when one era is dying and another is being born." With moving portraits of the Games's remarkable personalities woven among tales of espionage and propaganda, Rome 1960 explores an Olympics unable to fight off the troubles of the modern world. Cold War sniping and issues of social inequalities were spilling into fields and stadiums, and the face of sport was rapidly changing. History buffs and sports fans alike will appreciate Maranisss quiet reporting, as he deftly removes himself from a storyline that is still relevant today. --Dave Callanan
From Publishers Weekly
Overshadowed by more flamboyant or tragic Olympics, the 1960 Rome games were a sociopolitical watershed, argues journalist Maraniss (Clemente) in this colorful retrospective. The games showcased Cold War propaganda ploys as the Soviet Union surged past the U.S. in the medal tally. Steroids and amphetamines started seeping into Olympian bloodstreams. The code of genteel amateurism—one weight-lifter was forbidden to accept free cuts from a meat company—began crumbling in the face of lavish Communist athletic subsidies and under-the-table shoe endorsement deals. And civil rights and anticolonialism became conspicuous themes as charismatic black athletes—supercharged sprinter Wilma Rudolph, brash boxing phenom Cassius Clay, barefoot Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila—grabbed the limelight while the IOC sidestepped the apartheid issue. Still, we're talking about the Olympics, and Maraniss can't help wallowing in the classic tropes: personal rivalries, judging squabbles, come-from-behind victories and inspirational backstories of obstacles overcome (Rudolph wins the gold, having hurdled Jim Crow and childhood polio that left her in leg braces). As usual, these Olympic stories don't quite bear up under the mythic symbolism they're weighted with (with the exception perhaps of Abebe Bikila), but Maraniss provides an intelligent context for his evocative reportage. Photos. (July)
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Top Customer Reviews
In his latest book, Maraniss gets to write about both.
"Rome 1960" is a masterful look at the Summer Olympics of that year, and the way that world events collided with what was going on in athletics.
And there was a lot going on. Maraniss concentrates on a pair of events that dominated American interests at that time -- civil rights (domestic) and the Cold War (foreign).
The former is mostly told through the story of the Tennessee State track team, which is something of the Motown Records of American sports -- a small group of African Americans who overcame some racism and other obstacles to become hugely influential. You might have heard of Wilma Rudolph, who was the women's star of the game with three gold medals in sprinting and charmed everyone she contacted. Well, she had teammates, and were almost as good.
The men's side of the American team had a rather loud African-American voice in Rome as well. He became pretty familiar, although Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali a few years later. Clay not only was untouchable as a light-heavyweight boxer, but no one could outtalk him, either. No one could have guessed what would become of him.
Internationally, the rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union was in full bloom in every possible arena. The two sides kept track of medal counts with feverish intensity. Maraniss tells a story about how U.S. sprinter Dave Sime became friends with Soviet long jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, partly in an effort to see if the Soviet would defect. He didn't, due in part to some clumsy actions by U.S. officials.
There are plenty of other stories around as well. It was a time of African nationalism, with new countries seemingly coming into the world by the week. Ethiopia wasn't new, but it was still a bit bitter about losing a one-sided war to Italy less than a quarter-century before the games. So think of the feelings generated when the unknown Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the marathon on the streets of Rome ... barefoot, no less.
Plus there was the battle of amateur status, waged between bureaucrats who traveled around the world in first-class surroundings, and the athletes who were trying to earn enough to eat while training for their particular specialty. Avery Brundage comes off particularly badly, a grade-A hypocrite who in 1936 once suspended Olympian Eleanor Holm before the Games because she had turned down his romantic offers, and he then told people he had taken action because of Holm's drinking.
Drugs also started to pop up in 1960, as there were whispers about performance-enhancing substances in such sports as cycling and weight-lifting. There would be more of that -- indeed, more than whispers -- to come in the next 53 years, of course.
Maraniss obviously put a great deal of effort into the book. That's not easy with language barriers, but he spent time in Rome and Moscow, and tracked down all sorts of sources for information now available because of the fall of the Iron Curtain.
"Rome 1960" is a wide-ranging, always interesting book without a flaw. It's hard to image a better effort on the subject, and hard to image anyone better than Maraniss to get it all down on paper.
Sports became a political vehicle in the jousting between the two great Cold War leaders Eisenhower and Khrushchev in a battle between superpowers that proceeded unabated until the end of the Cold War. Sports also became entangled in the conflict between China and Taiwan that became a struggle of national identities, race relations in South Africa, not to mention race relations within our own “United” States. Politics burst through the dam of amateurism that Avery Brundage had tried to erect and for better or worse became a part of the Olympic Games down to present day.
I thought some of the most interesting sections were the sections on the evolution of television coverage of the Olympic Games. Having never known an era when the Olympic Games were not the subject of wall to wall coverage, one finds the descriptions of how they got the tapes back to the CBS studios for the half hour or hour recap show fascinating. This would change too, as the IOC would get wise to the television world in the ensuing Olympic Games.
While nothing in the victories of Wilma Rudolph and The Tigerbelles or Rafer Johnson by themselves changed the volatile race relations within this country, politics became more pronounced during these seventeen days. Whether in the form of Cold War tensions or race relations, politics was here to stay and the notion of Brundage’s amateurism slowly began to crumble. After 17 days in 1960, these Olympics would never be the same.
This is the story Maraniss tells in lively, engaging, prose. A first class read that is my favorite book of 2014 so far.
To David Maraniss, great kudos, I bought four copies of the book to give as gifts and will order Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero soon. God you write well!!!