The First London Olympics-1908

Article excerpt

The First London Olympics--1908, by Rebecca Jenkins (London, UK: Piatkus Books, 2008).

In 1971 Richard Mandell published his acclaimed classic, The Nazi Olympics, the first scholarly treatment of a specific Olympic Games. Mandell's book arrived on the eve of Germany's celebration of the 1972 Munich Olympics, a gala mega-event the timing of which the book's publisher/marketer, Macmillan of New York, cannot have failed to recognize. Circumstances may be somewhat similar with respect to Rebecca Jenkins' new book, particularly as London looks to celebrate the Games of the 30th Olympiad but two years from now. In recent years, there have been several excellent monographs published on specific editions of modern Olympic Games, of which works by the academics David Young, Kostas Georgiadis, Kevin Witherspoon, and Sandra Collins, rank supreme. (1) Attempting to add to this elite list is the tale of the 1908 Games in London as recounted by the Oxford-trained (Modern History), cultural historian, Rebecca Jenkins, daughter of and long-time co-worker with David Jenkins, venerable Bishop of Durham. Previous literary productions of Rebecca Jenkins are the biography of Fanny Kimble, noted actress of the 19th Century British stage, and a series of Regency detective novels set in the north-east of England. Although the latest Jenkins book has many admirable qualities, the scholar will be disappointed--a popular reading audience less so. But first, the good news, especially for a popular-reading audience.

The publishers (Piatkus Books) have produced a compact, ruggedly bound, and attractively presented volume (one which will delight "seniors"-the type is set 'oversize,' the leading is generous). On the plus side, Jenkins' tale of the London Games of 1908 is documented by close to a hundred illustrations, most published at the time of the event. They include photographs, cartoons, and drawings. Jenkins' prose style, light and almost journalistic in nature, is generally effective in creating and maintaining reader attention. The book has a strong "lead-in" section; indeed it comprises the first half of the book. "Scene Setting," in an elaborate sense, provides the reader with a lengthy narrative on the idea and execution of the Franco-British Exposition, inside of which the Olympic Games served as a stellar attraction; the development of the resplendent White City exhibition precinct; the architectural conception and subsequent erection of the multi-sport edifice that served as the central site for the athletic sports--the Shepherd's Bush Stadium; a discussion of international sport in its late 19th century and early 20th century contexts; and finally, an account of history's first Olympic Games opening ceremonies during which the central feature presented was "a parade of nations. …