cover image Something Like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

Something Like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

Stephen Amidon. Rodale, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60961-123-1

Amidon's examination of the athlete as Western icon%E2%80%94from violent warrior in ancient times to trending topic in today's 24/7 entertainment culture%E2%80%94is erudite and entertaining. Drawing from a vast and diverse range of sources, including literature, film, politics, and history, Amidon (coauthor, The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart) effectively argues that the athlete's "power to provoke awe has not diminished" over the millennia. Working forward from historian Gerhard Lukas's assertion that spear throwing%E2%80%94practiced at least 72,000 years ago%E2%80%94was the first sport, Amidon traces the engrossing evolution of the athlete. The author shows how the type of deadly combat depicted in Homer's Iliad gave way to the original Greek Olympics in 776 B.C.E., which featured nude male competitors and introduced the concept of the athlete as hero%E2%80%94"a figure who bridged the gap between the sacred and the secular." Amidon also covers the earliest forms of athletic free agency (as exemplified by the knight errant), the birth of the modern Olympics, "athletic apartheid," the rise of college sports and the female athlete in the late 1800s, the doping era, athletes as brands, and the high moral standard to which today's athletes are often held. Deftly balancing big-picture assessments with particular case studies%E2%80%94including Brandi Chastain and Tiger Woods%E2%80%94Amidon's treatise will please scholars and spectators alike. (June)