20 Books About The Olympics That Will Give You A Behind-The-Scenes Look At All The Drama
If you're an Olympics fan like me, you know how long the two-year wait between events can seem. To help you make it through those long seasons without international sports, I've got 21 books about the Olympics you should read A.S.A.P.
I don't really care for sports, except on certain occasions: my niece and nephew's games, the World Series, and the Olympics. Every two years, I get the chance to bug my family into watching figure skating, gymnastics, swimming, martial arts, fencing, volleyball, and football, and it's great.
The Olympics has a long and rich history, one that's worth exploring in your nightly reading. No matter whether you would rather read about particular Olympians, key moments in Olympic history, or wide-lens examinations of the games and events, there is at least one book you will enjoy on the list below.
The 21 books about the Olympics that I've picked out for you to read cover the last 100 years or so in international sports. There are microhistories on the Olympic games of yesteryear, as well as biographies on famous Olympic athletes Alice Coachman, Betty Robinson, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, among others. You'll also find some memoirs from former Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Check out my picks below, and share your favorite Olympic activities and books with me on Twitter!
'The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory' by Julie Checkoway
In 1937, a Japanese-American schoolteacher on the Hawaiian island of Maui challenged his students, the children of sugarcane harvesters, to become championship swimmers in the short span of three years. They succeeded.
'Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion' by Jessica Long
Russian-born Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long began winning gold medals more than 10 years ago. Aided by sister Hannah Long, Jessica tells her story in this photographic memoir.
'World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women's Cross-Country Ski Team' by Peggy Shinn
The U.S. Women's Cross-Country Ski Team has taken home eight medals over the last five years, and seven of its members made the cut to join the U.S. Olympic Cross-Country Ski Team in 2018. Read about the assembly of the eight-woman team in Peggy Shinn's 2018 book, World Class.
'Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything' by Aly Raisman
Captain of the U.S. Gymnastics Team in 2012 and 2016, Aly Raisman began her career as a gymnast when she was still a toddler. Now, you can read all about her story in her 2017 memoir, Fierce.
'Not the Triumph But the Struggle: 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete' by Amy Bass
Centering on Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Black Power protest salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Amy Bass traces the history of the black athlete in the U.S., beginning with homegrown eugenics projects and reaching beyond 1968 to Smith and Carlos' legacy in the world of sports.
'The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games' by Ron Kaplan
'Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice' by Karen Chen
Part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team, Karen Chen became the U.S. National Figure Skating Champion in 2017, attaining the highest score ever recorded for her short program. Chen opens up about "life on the ice" in her memoir, Finding the Edge.
'The Real All-Americans' by Sally Jenkins
In the early 20th century, Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School ruled American football, producing Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe and legendary coach Pop Warner. Sally Jenkins tells the team's story in The Real All-Americans.
'A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America' by Jennifer H. Lansbury
In A Spectacular Leap, Jennifer H. Lansbury profiles six black, female Olympians — Alice Coachman, Ora Washington, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudloph, Wyomia Tyus, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee — tracing both their achievements and the United States' sociopolitical progress across the latter half of the 20th century.
'Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics' by Jeremy Schaap
The 1936 Olympics were held in Hitler's Berlin, but the Nazi Party's racist eugenics theories would be shattered on their own turf when Jesse Owens, a black track-and-field competitor from Alabama, beat his "Aryan" opponents and took home four gold medals as Hitler looked on.
'Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women' by Roseanne Montillo
Betty Robinson broke through the glass ceiling for women in sports by becoming the fastest woman in the world at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. A plane crash would prevent her from attending the 1932 games, but other female athletes were waiting to follow in her footsteps. This is their story.
'Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance' by Simone Biles
In 2013, at the age of 16, Simone Biles got an official gymnastics move named after her, and that's not even her biggest achievement. Check out Biles' story in Courage to Soar.
'I Got This: To Gold and Beyond' by Laurie Hernandez
Part of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Laurie Hernandez returned home with two medals, and won Dancing with the Stars later that same year. She tells the story of her journey to fame in I Got This.
'Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics' by Jules Boykoff
Because the Olympics play out on the global stage, with athletes often competing against their countries' longtime enemies, you might wonder how international conflicts have shaped the games as we know them today. Jules Boykoff's 2016 book Power Games will walk you through the political protests and upheavals from the modern Olympics' first 120 years.
'Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters' by Joan Ryan
A book that makes for a chilling, if timely, read in the wake of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's conviction for child molestation, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes details the grueling regimens child gymnasts and figure skaters are put through when training for the Olympics and other competitions.
'The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future' by Victor Cha
With the Olympics back on the Korean peninsula for 2018, much talk surrounding the games has been focused on the relationship between North and South Korea. Victor Cha's primer on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, is a must-read for this year's Olympic games.
'The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold' by Joy Goodwin
At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, three figure skating pairs from China, Russia, and the U.S. went head-to-head in a medal event that could only be determined by the competitors' creative scores: the titular "second mark." The resulting scandal led to major changes in the way figure skating events would be scored in future events.
'Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias' by Don Van Natta, Jr.
After taking home two gold medals as a track-and-field athlete in the 1932 Olympics, Babe Didrikson Zaharias went on to compete as a golfer at a time when golf was largely a men-only sport. In 1950, she founded the LPGA with 12 other women golfers, and won 14 tournaments in a row, "the longest [winning streak] in golf history."
'The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics' Top Score — from Nadia to Now' by Dvora Meyers
Another book on shakeups in Olympic scoring, Dvora Meyers' The End of the Perfect 10 walks readers through the fraught decision to replace the famous 10-point scoring system with the new Code of Points in use today.
'Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd' by Kyle Keiderling
Scandal rocked the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when U.S. competitor Mary Decker collided with Zola Budd, a South African running for the British, during a 3,000-meter event. Decker was unable to complete the race, and allegations poured in, hinting that Budd tripped her opponent deliberately. Kyle Keiderling rehashes the event and its aftermath in Olympic Collision.