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The inspiring yet tragic story of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French visionary who founded the modern Olympic Games.
A historical novel by George Hirthler
In its narrative scope, The Idealist spans two centuries, covering the 74 years of Coubertin’s life—from his birth in Pairs in 1863 to his death in Geneva in 1937. It reveals how the transformation of Paris into the capital of modernity helped fire a young man’s imagination—and how the drumbeats of war sounded by the German hosts of the 1936 Berlin Olympics spoiled an old man’s dreams, and left him bereft of hope for the Movement he created to foster peace among nations.
When the novel opens in early 1937, Coubertin is 74, he’s broke, his health is failing, and although he has created one of the most influential international movements of the 20th century, he is completely unknown outside a small circle of admirers, whose financial help he has repeatedly declined. His wife can hardly withhold her bitter animosity, his son is an insensate abyss of sadness, his daughter in and out of touch with reality, and his great creation is about to fall into the hands of a Nazi madman leading the world to war. But hope begins to rise again when a new ally appears.
The narrative is driven by the arrival of Jacques St. Clair from Le Petit Journal in Paris, a fictional but famous sports journalist who moves to Lausanne with his American girlfriend, the painter Juliette Franklin, to spend a year writing the Baron’s biography. As St. Clair begins to interview Coubertin, his life story unfolds in scenes that flash back and forth between the old man in Lausanne and his memories of the seven decades past. As the dialogue between them develops, the reader absorbs their conversations, sees St. Clair's notes and reads the passages he drafts for the unfinished biography.
The story dramatizes Coubertin’s entire life—from his childhood and school years in France to his travels to England and the United States as a young man, from his work on the Paris 1889 Universal Exposition at which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled to his yearnings to do something great for his country and for peace. As the novel moves to its conclusion, it portrays the launch of the Olympic Movement at the Sorbonne in 1894 and the Baron’s endless struggles to spread the gospel of sport through the Olympic Games from Athens 1896 through Berlin 1936. St. Clair and his girlfriend become fully immersed in Coubertin’s life as she begins to paint a portrait of him—and are deeply affected as his health declines and the race to finish the interviews faces an increasingly impossible deadline.
George Hirthler is regarded as one of the leading creative talents at work in the Olympic Movement today. A writer/producer and international communications strategist, Hirthler is a seasoned campaign director, guiding clients through the complexities of brand positioning and communications strategy development.
Over the last two decades, he has served as a lead writer or communications strategist for ten Olympic bid cities. The campaigns of Atlanta 1996, Istanbul 2000, Stockholm 2004, Klagenfurt 2006, Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, NYC2012, Salzburg 2014, Chicago 2016 and Munich 2018 have benefited from his insights, passion and drive for excellence. While helping each of these cities shape their Olympic message and image, he has written and produced more than 2500 pages of Olympic bid books, brochures, and speeches plus dozens of films and numerous major presentations. He also wrote the theme for the Beijing 2008 Olympics—One World, One Dream—and the winning bid for the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games for Innsbruck 2012.
In 1996, the Republic of France awarded him the title of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters for his work in promoting the Olympic Ideal and the legacy of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 2004, Sports Business Journal named Hirthler one of the 20 Most Influential People in the Olympic Movement for his Olympic bid work. In 2011, Hirthler turned his attention to historical fiction and four and a half-years later, finished The Idealist, the first major novel on the life and times of the founder of the modern Olympic Games.
A graduate of Temple University’s School of Theatre and Communications, Hirthler lives in Atlanta with his wife, Carole.
Praise for The Idealist
“Coubertin’s name deserves an honored place among the transformative heroes of history. Yet so few know of his achievements. The Idealist creates that honored place—in a novel as inspiring as the Olympics themselves.” - Ambassador Andrew Young
“The incredible story of a man who gave everything he had to unite our world in friendship and peace—a must read for every Olympian and all those who hope our world can come together despite our differences.” - Billy Payne
“An unforgettable epic novel. In The Idealist, Baron Pierre de Coubertin—the French visionary who founded the modern Olympic Games—is finally getting the glowing portrait he deserves.” - Johann Olav Koss