Games of Deception


Games of Deception is a true account of the US Basketball team at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.  

The author, Andrew Maraniss, begins the story of that team and that Olympics by introducing readers to the history of basketball. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 at a YMCA training school in Massachusetts, and his students went on to manage YMCA centers around the globe, bringing basketball with them.It became a popular sport with US troops during World War I and by the end of the war, basketball had become a global sport. 

1936 was the first time basketball was played at the Olympics. Although Maraniss is very interested in basketball, he really only spends a chapter or two describing the game and its beginnings. Games of Deception is really about how Hitler came to see the 1936 Olympics as a chance to portray Nazi Germany as a unified, successful, country with great economic power. Maraniss shows how Hitler achieved that propaganda goal by imprisoning homeless people and his political enemies, and hiring many workers to clean the parts of Berlin that Olympic attendees were going to see. Hitler even used Olympic rituals to highlight German military power and his own role as leader. The Opening Ceremony included a fly over by the Hindenburg, a huge German blimp with a swastika painted on it, and a performance by the Hitler Youth. 

Games of Deception is a fascinating look at a part of history that is not found in textbooks or taught in school. I thought I knew a lot about Nazi Germany, but the story of how Hitler used the Olympics for propaganda was new to me. Maraniss uses eyewitness accounts very effectively and that brings this history to life. Maraniss quotes Malcolm Metcalf, a javelin thrower at the 1936 Olympics, regretting his decision not to throw his javelin at Hitler because he “could have changed world history.” 

The part of Games of Deception that I did not like is the fact that the book talks about the 1936 Olympics and history, and then talks about basketball, but never really brings the two together. In other words, Maraniss does not really use the basketball team as a way to describe or explain the history. He uses the basketball team to talk about basketball, and the other chapters to talk about Nazism and Germany in 1936. 

Overall, I would recommend Games of Deception. It is very interesting, reveals a history that you have probably never even heard about before picking up this book, and would be appealing to someone who might not read a history book, but could be interested by sports.