Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe

S. & S. Aug. 2022. 608p. ISBN 9781476748412. $29.99. SPORTS
Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post editor Maraniss (Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics That Stirred the World), who’s known for his best-selling biographies of Vince Lombardi, Roberto Clemente, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, demonstrates with this latest biography that he moves easily between the worlds of politics and sports. His subject is the multisport phenom Jim Thorpe (1887–1953), whom ABC News has called the top American athlete of the 20th century. After growing up in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) as a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe earned All-American honors in college football, played pro football in its early days, and played several years of Major League Baseball. In the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe won gold medals for the pentathlon and decathlon, making him the first Indigenous American to win Olympic gold for the U.S. He was stripped of those medals the following year, however, when it was determined that he was not a true amateur because he had played semipro baseball. That turn of events would be the fulcrum of Thorpe’s life, Maraniss argues here.
VERDICT Maraniss’s book is the most comprehensive Thorpe biography to date (being nearly 200 well-cited pages longer than Kate Buford’s 2010 biography Native American Son). Beyond bringing Thorpe to life, Maraniss also delves heavily into issues of race and culture.
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