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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Olympian Ideals

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The stage is almost set for the world’s greatest sporting event, the Olympic Games. As China fends off attacks against its human rights record while battling the unsightly algae on its beaches, it might be heartened by the thought that a Pulitzer prize-winning author could one day invest the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the Homeric significance David Maraniss has imbued the 1960 Olympics. In Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World,Maraniss describes the event as a brightly lit stage where politics and passions played out against a backdrop of rising feminism, rampant nationalism and racial discontent. There’s even a bit of espionage thrown in to heighten its cross-genre appeal.

  According to Maraniss, the 1960 Olympics bred a series of firsts: first African-American Olympics team captain; first televised Olympics; first company-sponsored product placement; first major dope scandal. It also offers animated accounts of some of history’s most memorable athletes, including Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who ran barefoot through the streets of Rome; American Wilma Rudolph, whose ability to effortlessly jump hurdles was second only to her capacity for overcoming obstacles like childhood polio; and a young and feisty Cassius Clay only four years before he reinvented himself as Muhammad Ali.

  Maraniss’ book also offers a compelling panorama of the political and social climate of the late ’50s and early ’60s, running the gamut from Soviet Communism, South African Apartheid and the divided ideals of East and West Germany to the emergence of new nations in sub-Saharan Africa. And of course there are the human rights controversies that dogged China in 1960 as tenaciously as they do today. Some things never change.

  Maraniss comes to the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Shorewood on July 24 at 7 p.m.

  Also this week, WoodlandPatternBookCenter offers a modern-day reworking of the illuminated manuscript. Starting July 27, artist Gina Litherland’s original drawings from Terri Kapsalis’ book The Hysterical Alphabet will be on display at the Woodland Pattern Gallery. Delving into the annals of medical lore, Kapsalis’ captions and Litherland’s illustrations present a vivid history of female ailments. The opening reception takes place on Sunday, July 27, from 1 to 4 p.m., with a performance of the works at 7 p.m. on Aug. 2.