Monday, November 14, 2022

Path Hit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe (David Maraniss)

Author David Maraniss has written a number of biographies throughout his career, including When Pride Still Mattered, about football coach Vince Lombardi. Jim Thorpe has had a number of biographies written about him but not one that captures the modern historical perspective. In Path Hit By Lightning, Maraniss covers the turbulent and, at times, troubled life of Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe is known by many for his athletic prowess, winning gold medals in the 1912 Olympics that were stripped from him for several decades because of his summer stints playing minor league baseball. He was a multi-sport star that excelled at football and track but also played professional baseball for over a decade, including several years in the National League with the Giants, Reds, and Braves. Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, also dealt with discrimination, forced assimilation into broader American society, and alcoholism that developed late in his athletic career but continued for much of the rest of his life. Thorpe died in 1953, ultimately buried in a town he never spent time in thanks to the efforts of his third wife. Thorpe’s legend on the athletic field, captured largely without film and television, took on mythic proportions thanks to a number of champions in the press.

Maraniss does a good job of covering the struggle Thorpe faced throughout his life. The struggle to get his gold medals back. The struggle of being a Native American in a white-dominant society. The struggle with alcohol. All in all, his coverage of Thorpe is powerful and persuasive.