Review: Circus Maximus by Andrew Zimbalist


Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup

Andrew Zimbalist

Brookings Institution Press, 2015

175 pages

Buy: book | ebook

In a way, everything about Andrew Zimbalist’s Circus Maximus is great. The book is thoroughly researched, thoroughly argued—hard to find a hole in its logic. And yet: how devastating. Zimbalist draws from an apparently bottomless well of examples of cities and countries who turn their well-being inside-out in an attempt to host the biggest, grandest Games—a family shoving themselves into bankruptcy by insisting their dinner party have silk napkins, a private chef, gold-speckled sundaes.

The sheer volume of information, all of it pointing to the same conclusion, is hard to argue with: a country who doesn’t already have massive stadium infrastructure in place should never attempt to host these outsized tournaments. Zimbalist frequently points to the only two financially successful tournaments in recent history—the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics—because they provide such a stark contrast with the mess that every other tournament has left in its wake, its final stadium-building bill simply too large for any country to responsibly volunteer paying. There are the business atrocities, yes—the 2008 Beijing Olympics earned a tenth of what it cost&mbdash;but too frequently there are human rights atrocities on top of it: at the time the book was written, over a thousand migrant workers had died while constructing stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: The State of Poetry in the US

Early last month, PEN International publicly condemned the killing of Thai poet Mainueng K. Kunthee. The poet had been shot to death on April 23rd, presumably because of his public criticisms of the monarchy and Thailand’s lèse majesté law.  Known as a poet of the people, Kunthee was immensely popular; his work “spoke of social justice, the rights of the poor, and in protest of laws against free expression.”

After Kunthee’s death, free expression became even more suppressed in Thailand–thus the PEN condemnation six weeks later. “PEN International is deeply concerned for the safety of writers, academics and activists in Thailand,” the report states, “who are increasingly at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions…”

PEN’s report and condemnation recirculated the story on June 10th, with write-ups in LA Times and The Poetry Foundation, among others. As it happens, three days later, the New York Times published a piece entitled “Poetry: Who Needs It?”–in which the author summarizes and laments the overarching neglect–if not general loathing–of poetry today.Continue Reading

Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political


Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-“activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

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