Odds are you've never heard of the Dassler brothers, but almost assuredly you've heard of the brands they created, Adidas and Puma. In Sneaker Wars, journalist Barbara Smit gives a lively, detailed account of the brands' fates and fortunes in the world of sports, history and business. After reading this book, you won't look at your sneakers or any athletic apparel with a logo quite the same way again.

Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf (Rudi) Dassler established their shoe company in Germany in the 1920s. With their complementary skills - Adi the behind-the-scenes technician, Rudi the extroverted sales type - they made some of the best athletic shoes and enjoyed much success. They also benefited from Hitler's keen interest in sports. Athletic accomplishment had high propaganda value and Hitler wanted to showcase German power and athletic prowess at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Many of the German athletes were wearing Dassler shoes. Adi, however, was determined to get their shoes on Jesse Owens, an extraordinary black American athlete who was expected to shine at the Olympics. And when Owens smashed records and collected numerous gold medals wearing the brothers' shoes, the Dasslers secured a reputation with the world's most prominent athletes.

But wartime quarrels about who was vying for control of the company caused a bitter rift between the brothers and the company was split in 1948. Everything from equipment to employees to patents was divided between them. Adi registered Adidas. Rudi registered Puma. And the sneaker wars began. Over generations, the rivalry led not only to Adidas and Puma making competing products, it resulted in increasingly clever and crafty ways of marketing and selling those products. Smit highlights the intriguing behind-the-scenes activity and historical backdrop that made sports business what it is today. What began with shoe brands courting Olympic athletes with hushed illegal "bonuses" under bathroom stalls evolved into multimillion-dollar celebrity and team endorsements, and the outsize sports personalities that are now commonplace. Sneaker Wars reveals how the game is really played.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

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