Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport

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9780029147658: Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport

Hoberman argues that the example of Ben Johnson was the logical outcome of a sporting ethos which seeks ever greater speed and strength - the creation of a man-machine - and the financial corruption of the Olympic ethos. Normal human limits are being exceeded but at a great physical and perhaps moral cost as sport becomes increasingly de-humanized.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

An ambitious and jolting, if occasionally turgid, investigation into the origins and wider implications of the contemporary union of science and sport. Blending cultural history with ethical alarm, Hoberman (Scandinavian and Germanic Languages/Univ. of Texas at Austin) identifies the emergence of sports science in 19th-century assessments of human capabilities and traces it through the developing disciplines of physiology and physical anthropology. Viewed as physically ``pathological'' subjects, athletes were initially free from outside intervention. Later--Hoberman's history gets a bit sketchy here--nationalist anxieties, pharmacological advances, and the interests of the athletes themselves created an ``obsessional'' climate in which human values were sacrificed for improved performance. Today, despite testing for 3,700 banned substances, ``it is clear that international controls cannot put an end to doping'': Some in the sports community have advocated legalizing all enhancements. A more alarming possibility, one ``touching on human identity itself,'' is future use of genetic engineering to improve athletic specimens. Although impressive in its range, the book's power is undercut by a dense, pedantic style marked by frequent repetition. Even so, there are well-placed attacks on, among other targets, the hypocrisy of the sporting world and the dubious claims of sports psychology. While possibly overstated, this is still a frightening expos‚ of scientific abuse indirectly sanctioned by an alternately indifferent and medal- hungry political and social environment. Not quite a world-beater--and a bit of a downer for an Olympic year--but worth the attention of anyone serious about the future of humanity in the sporting arena and beyond. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Athletes' use of steroids, testosterone and other drugs to boost performance reflects an obsesson with winning at any cost, observes Hoberman, who maintains that the age-old ideals of sportsmanship prevalent less than a century ago have been replaced by dehumanized, often brutal competition. This eye-opening study traces the efforts of scientists, trainers and doctors to adapt athletes to ever-increasing levels of stress. Chapters cover the birth of sports physiology around 1890; anthropological theories of racial variation; the politics of contemporary drug use; the myth of robotized communist athletes; and the shameful drugging, electroshock treatments and physical torture applied to racehorses. Hoberman, a runner for 20 years and a language professor at the University of Texas, cogently argues that modern sports psychology, based on the romantic myth that athletes can be liberated from inner blocks, has scarcely advanced beyond its 19th-century prototypes. He also blasts the Olympics for managerial indifference to athletes' drug use.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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