three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-Rome 1960David Marannis, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, historian (2004 Pulitzer finalist They Marched Into Sunlight, 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2004 ), and biographer (First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, and Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006), reexamines the importance of the 1960 Rome Olympics.

The Topic: A brash young boxer named Cassius Clay, sprinter Wilma Rudolph, decathlete Rafer Johnson, and basketball stars Oscar Robertson and Jerry West—all stole the show for the Americans in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila famously won the gold while running barefoot, and International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage made far-reaching decisions that struck many as bigoted and backward. But, surmises David Maraniss, it was the big picture—the cold war, apartheid, a Chinese boycott, the rise of women in competition, and Jim McKay’s same-day coverage from CBS headquarters in New York—that will characterize these Olympics, more than any other, as both a reflection of, and a driving force behind, the events that shaped an era.
Simon & Schuster. 496 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 1416534075

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Maraniss] … places the Games in the larger context of the Cold War and the monumental East-West struggle to achieve supremacy without setting off a nuclear war. … In Rome 1960 Maraniss is taking home the gold." Jules Wagman

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"David Maraniss’s marvelous account of the interminable clash between Olympian ideals and pragmatic reality. … With Rome 1960, he keeps his winning streak intact." Erik Spanberg

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"If there were Olympic medals for meticulous research, rich storytelling and a grand narrative, David Maraniss’ new book, Rome 1960, would be as good as gold." George Raine

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What Mr. Maraniss has—what any writer on the Olympics has—are great personalities, heart-warming human-interest stories and the unmatchable make-or-break drama of athletic competition. … Too many underdog Davids overcoming obstacles and vanquishing Goliaths can turn any narrative into corn, and Mr. Maraniss does not always avoid falling into a chowder of inevitable clichés." Barry Gewen

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"The 100-meter [swimming] final is one among many dramatic moments captured by Mr. Maraniss in his appealing account of the Games’ athletic competition and of the behind-the-scenes machinations that attend any international sporting event. But despite the book’s made-for-marketing subtitle, The Olympics That Changed the World, Mr. Maraniss does not exert himself to try to prove that large claim." Richard W. Pound

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Maraniss’s task] would have been easier to pull off if the reminiscences he gathered from athletes were more stirring, but they are almost uniformly pallid. … [The Rome Olympics] didn’t change the world so much as anticipate, in an intermittently compelling way, the very different world to come." David Margolick

Critical Summary

David Maraniss has demonstrated great range throughout his writing career. His latest effort is a timely and, for the most part, a well executed look at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Although the book’s subtitle may be a bit of a reach, Maraniss has much to say about the implications of the Rome Games as a microcosm of the political, financial, and humanitarian forces shaping the world at the time. Only the New York Times Book Review opined that the event’s obscurity today suggests that nothing was, in fact, world-changing about it. Rome 1960 combines the author’s passion for sports with his keen eye for sociopolitical connections to offer a compelling portrait of the "Olympics that changed the world."