Wednesday’s Book Review: “America’s First Olympics: The St. Louis Games of 1904”

America’s First Olympics: The St. Louis Games of 1904. By George R. Matthews. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005.

With the Olympics currently underway in London, it seems appropriate to call attention in my Wednesday book review to a good book on the first American Olympics. It is a shameful thing that the president of the University of Missouri has just closed the press that published this fine work.

American’s have long been fascinated by the modern Olympics, the winners and losers, the exotic locations where they are held, and the stories of the participants. Without question the Olympics have been a critical element in both the competition and cooperation of nations throughout the twentieth century. It has been a source of prestige and geopolitics for all nations involved as well as a marketplace for the interchange of cultures.

“America’s First Olympics: The St. Louis Games of 1904” provides an excellent overview of the first Olympics held in the United States (odd that it was not New York or another more exotic American city), held in conjunction with the St. Louis World’s Fair over nearly a six month period.

Accordingly, the subject matter of this work is both significant and timely. The work is based on the good use of several key sources, many of them primary. Accordingly, this offers a fine addition to the literature on the subject. The work is also well written and offers considerable reflection on this subject. It offers stories about the people mentioned in the text, their likes and dislikes, their perspectives on the world, their ideals and opportunism. There are telling anecdotes relayed and thoughtful stories told throughout. Finally, the last chapter offers a superb set of conclusions about the meaning of this Olympics for the summer games writ large and their place in American history.

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