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Bookbeat: August 2004

A Brief History of the Olympic Games

A Brief History of the Olympic Gamesby David Young, Department of Classics
(Wiley-Blackwel, 2004)
Available through Amazon

When the summer Olympic Games began in Athens during August, the event marked a return not only to the games' ancient roots but also to its modern ones, so says a UF classics professor who argues in a recently published book that the French man long credited with originating the modern Olympics actually got the idea from, among others, a Greek philanthropist.

Normandy native Baron Pierre de Coubertin assiduously promoted himself as the lone force behind the Olympics — and deliberately obscured the contributions of Evangelis Zappas and a handful of other, now mostly forgotten Greek and British advocates for the games, says David Young.

"He took an idea that others had been failing at, but working at for decades — he took that idea and claimed it as his own and made it work," Young says. "The credit for the Olympics really goes to the good luck and hard work of several people."

Young's book, A Brief History of the Olympics, was published this summer by Blackwell Publishing. It contains a history of the ancient Olympics as well as Young's revisionist history of how the modern ones began. Young first presented his arguments about the origins of the Olympics in his 1996 book, The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival.

The first modern international Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896. Coubertin, a French aristocrat and physical education advocate who founded the International Olympic Committee, remains officially enshrined as the games' sole founder.

"Coubertin was a very active sportsman and practiced the sports of boxing, fencing, horse-riding and rowing," according to the committee's Web site. "He was convinced that sport was the springboard for moral energy and he defended his idea with rare tenacity. It was this conviction that led him to announce at the age of 31 that he wanted to revive the Olympic Games."

Left unsaid in this and other traditionalist histories, according to Young, is that Coubertin got his idea from several earlier proponents of an Olympic revival. Prominent among these were Zappas and British physician William Penny Brookes, both of whom organized national game festivals modeled on the ancient Olympics.

The Zappas Games of Athens began in 1859, four years before Coubertin was born. They were inspired by the writings of Panagiotis Soutsos, a Greek poet who saw the Olympics as a way of helping Greece return to its pre-eminence in Europe, Young says. A British version of the national Olympic games were first held in London in 1866, he says.

Both featured ceremonies, rituals and competitions, such as foot races, wrestling, jumping and javelin throwing. Neither drew competitors from outside their native countries, but that hardly disqualifies them from Olympic status, Young says. "People will say, 'Well if all the athletes in the Zappas games were Greeks then they weren't international, and so they weren't really Olympics,' but then I'll then I'll ask, 'Do you say the original ancient Olympics weren't really Olympics either, because all of the participants were Greeks?'"

Although the games were held periodically, neither series persisted into the 1900s, Young says. That said, Brookes proposed holding International Olympic Games as early as 1881 and worked diligently to persuade Greek authorities to hold it in Athens through the early 1890s, Young says.

Young based his conclusions on exhaustive research of newspaper articles dating back over a century, correspondence, minutes of organizational meetings for early Olympic events and other primary sources in England, Switzerland and Greece. He says his research — which he launched after learning of the Zappas games while researching a book on the origins of amateur sports — shows that Coubertin not only knew about the British and Greek games but also maintained a long friendship with Brookes, whom he visited in England in 1890 and saw the "Much Wenlock" Olympics that Brookes developed.

Despite that, Coubertin's "Olympic Memoirs," never mentions a word about Brookes, Zappas, or either of the earlier British or Greek games.

"Coubertin never says anything bad about Brookes, but he wouldn't admit what Brookes had done," Young says. "Brookes died three months before the 1896 games, and by then Coubertin wasn't even answering his (Brookes') letters. And he denied in print that there had ever been any Zappas games.

Alexander Kitroeff, an associate professor of history at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and the author of the recently published book, Wrestling with the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics, credits Young with being the first scholar to cement the important role of the pre-Coubertin Olympics. Kitroeff says, "Young is the one who really documented these claims that the Zappas Olympics were an inspiration to Coubertin, and he was able to expose the fact that Coubertin was unwilling to acknowledge his antecedents, including both Zappas and Brookes."

—Aaron Hoover,
UF News and Public Affairs

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

by Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College
(Basic Books, 2004)
Available though Amazon

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?In an effort to showcase his strong interest in promoting racial diversity on campus, UF President Bernie Machen has asked all faculty to read the national bestseller Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, as part of his inauguration festivities this fall. Written by the president of Spelman College, Beverly Daniel Tatum, the book provides readers a framework for stimulating healthy discussions on racial identity and race relations.

"I think it is an excellent book, in that it provides us with a way to have conversations regarding race and race identity without polarizing participants," says Terry Mills, CLAS Associate Dean for Minority Affairs. "It does not raise issues that would make individuals feel like they were under attack. There is nothing, in my opinion, that an individual can take as a personal affront, from the position that the book takes."

Mills will moderate a roundtable discussion on the book during a symposium held on September 9 as part of the activities surrounding Machen's inauguration. A panel of 12 UF faculty members, representing a number of colleges across campus, will have a conversation about the book and discuss issues of racial identity and the curriculum. In addition to Mills, other CLAS faculty members on the panel are Brian Ward, chair of the history department and a civil rights historian, and religion professor Vasudha Narayanan.

Held at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 1:30 pm, the roundtable is intended to model what a conversation on race looks and sounds like across racial groups. Following the discussion, at 3:30 pm, author Beverly Daniel Tatum will give a 30-minute talk, followed by a question and answer session. The event is free and open to the public.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to talk to one another about issues that typically are difficult to talk about across race," says Katheryn Russell-Brown, a law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, which conceived the idea for the reading initiative. "This really shows the genius of President Machen because we presented the idea of having a faculty reading initiative on campus, and it was his idea that it be included as part of his inauguration. He has really given us an opportunity to showcase these issues."

Russell-Brown says that, depending on the success of the initiative, Machen is considering allowing it to continue and become an annual event. "We recommended that the first book address issues of race," she says. "Next year's book, however, could be on religion or war, for example. Based upon the response and involvement of the faculty this year, President Machen will consider whether to continue it next year."

The book is available for purchase at the UF Bookstore for $15.95. For more information, contact the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations in the Levin College of Law at or 392-2216.

—Buffy Lockette

Monte Carlo Statistical Methods

Monte Carlo Statistical Methodsby George Casella, Department of Statistics, and Christian P. Robert
(Springer-Verlag New York, Inc., 2004)
Available through Amazon

Monte Carlo statistical methods, particularly those based on Markov chains, have now matured to be part of the standard set of techniques used by statisticians. This book is intended to bring these techniques into the classroom, being a self-contained logical development of the subject. This is a textbook intended for a second-year graduate course. It does not assume that the reader has any familiarity with Monte Carlo techniques (such as random variable generation), or with any Markov chain theory. Chapters 1-3 are introductory, first reviewing various statistical methodologies, then covering the basics of random variable generation and Monte Carlo integration. Chapter 4 is an introduction to Markov chain theory, and Chapter 5 provides the first application of Markov chains to optimization problems. Chapters 6 and 7 cover the heart of MCMC methodology, the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm and the Gibbs sampler. Finally, Chapter 8 presents methods for monitoring convergence of the MCMC methods, while Chapter 9 shows how these methods apply to some statistical settings, which cannot be processed otherwise. Each chapter concludes with a section of notes that serve to enhance the discussion in the chapters.


Apalachicola Bay

Apalachicola Bayby Kevin M. McCarthy, Department of English
(Pineapple Press, Inc., 2004)
Available through Amazon

From the union of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers at the Georgia-Florida state line, the mighty Apalachicola River flows unimpeded for about 100 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. At the river's mouth lies Apalachicola Bay and Florida's "Forgotten Coast," known for world-class seafood and seemingly endless miles of pristine beaches, shallow estuaries, and protected forests. In Apalachicola Bay, author Kevin McCarthy takes us through the history of the bay's sites and communities. Come along and discover the cities and communities of Franklin County and the area's barrier islands. Explore the Apalachicola River, Apalachicola National Forest and Apalachicola National Estuary Research Reserve, as well as sites such as Fort Gadsden, Cape St. George Lighthouse and Crooked River Lighthouse. With vibrant color paintings by William L. Trotter, Apalachicola Bay will let you savor some authentic Florida history and see what makes this "Forgotten Coast" memorable for residents and visitors alike.


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