In Praise of Athletic Beauty by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Here is something of a marvel—a book by the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature at Stanford University that is written for the common reader, without footnotes, bibliography, or index. What's more, it is a pleasure to read. It consists of four elegant chapters written in an approachable, appreciative, meditative vein. The first is a chapter defining praise, beauty, and athletics. The second, "Discontinuities," chooses moments in the history of sports: demigods, gladiators, knights, ruffians, sportsmen, Olympians, customers. The third chapter defines what the author means by "fascinations." He chooses themes that excite all fans with a sense of beauty and wonder—bodies in motion, suffering, grace, tools, forms, plays, and timing. The fourth chapter, "Gratitude," concludes the book with original meditations on "watching" and "waste." In this delightful volume, Gumbrecht draws on his own favorite experiences, from watching hockey in Canada to watching the World Cup and other soccer games (especially those involving Germany), and most recently, watching Stanford's swim meets and football contests. He is not the first to write on these themes in a philosophical mood, but he does so with a grace that is worthy of his subject.
American Enterprise Institute
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This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books