Reading the Games

Stories that go for the gold.

The Boys of Winter

By Wayne Coffey

The “Miracle on Ice,” or the surprise victory of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team against the Soviet Union, has become synonymous with an underdog romanticism and the triumph of Western capitalism over communist ideals. But what of the ramshackle, blue-collar bunch who just wanted to play a good game of hockey? Wayne Coffey delves into the unlikely team’s back-story in The Boys of Winter, sketching intimate portraits of the players, coach Herb Brooks, and even the Russian opponents, paralyzed with disbelief at a match that had appeared a guaranteed win.

Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World

By David Maraniss

The 1960 Summer Olympics debuted in a frenetic climate of both political and cultural upheaval, and the events of the Games themselves were no small news item — in fact, they were the first ever to be commercially televised. Washington Post editor David Maraniss thrillingly recounts these eighteen days in Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World, from the unprecedented consideration of equal rights for black athletes to the first major doping scandal to the world premiere boxing match of Cassius Clay-turned-Muhammad Ali.


By Chris Cleave

Three friends and Olympic-level cyclists compete on and off the Velodrome track in this unsettling novel that piques the tenuous balance between ambition and sacrifice. Spouses Jack and Kate and their childhood friend Zoe are all in the running for the 2013 British Olympic cycling team, but the couple’s obsessive training starts to surpass the urgency of their daughter’s leukemia, while Zoe’s overpowering need to win threatens to undo a decades-long friendship. Chris Cleave’s Gold spins a rich tale of choice and consequence, probing the limits of dedication in extreme sports.


By Laura Hillenbrand

A cinematic retelling of the story of a man who faced the limits of human endurance as a runner in the 1936 Olympics, then as a castaway Air Force pilot in the Pacific Ocean, and then again as a  POW in Japan, Unbroken is a mesmerizing account of strength and resilience in the face of seemingly absolute defeat. Louis Zamperini’s extraordinary life and unbelievable successes in the throes of adversity are skillfully captured by Seabiscuit: An American Legend author Laura Hillenbrand. Read the full review by our contributor Barbara Spindel here.

The Boys in the Boat

By Daniel James Brown

Perhaps the most notorious round of Games, the 1936 Summer Olympics, was held in a frenzied, ultranationalist Berlin in the throes of Hitler’s reign — but for the University of Washington crew team, it was simply the year to make sports history. This excellent biography profiles the oarsmen, recently crippled by the Great Depression, as they defeated one prestigious Ivy League crew after another on their way to the gold. Using the rowers’ own journals, Brown lovingly chronicles this little-known triumph with a rich, lyrical prose: “Their white blades flashed above the water like the wings of sea birds flying in formation.” See the full review by our contributor Katherine A. Powers here.