The first comprehensive biography of the legendary figure who defined excellence in American sports: Jim Thorpe, arguably the greatest all-around athlete in U.S. history.
With clarity and an eye for detail, Kate Buford traces the pivotal moments of Thorpe’s incomparable career: growing up in the tumultuous Indian Territory of Oklahoma; leading the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team to victories against the country’s finest college teams; winning gold medals in the 1912 Olympics pentathlon and decathlon; defining the burgeoning sport of professional football; and playing long, often successful—and previously unexamined—years in professional baseball.
At the same time, however, Buford recounts the difficulties Thorpe faced as a Native American. We also see the infamous loss of his Olympic medals, stripped from him because he had previously played professional baseball, an event that would haunt Thorpe for the rest of his life. We see his struggles with alcoholism and personal misfortune, and how he came to distrust many of the hands extended to him. We learn the details of his vigorous advocacy for Native American rights while he chased a Hollywood career, and the truth behind the supposed reinstatement of his Olympic record in 1982.
Here is the story of a complex, iconoclastic, profoundly talented man whose life encompassed both tragic limitations and truly extraordinary achievements.
Kate Buford is the author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life. She has written for the New York Times and has been a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition and American Public Media’s Marketplace.
“Impeccably researched. . . . This retrospective is not the first to tackle the complex life of Jim Thorpe, but it’s the most comprehensive. . . . [It] captures Thorpe’s breathtaking highs and heartrending lows.”—Kirkus
“[Buford] knows about mythic heroes and draws a complex portrait of Jim Thorpe: from his superhuman athletic talents to his all-too-human flaws.”—Washington Post
“[Buford] lays a firm, clear historical groundwork for the reservation life and Indian world in which Thorpe grew up in Oklahoma. . . . [It] brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. . . . Through Thorpe’s struggles and striving, Buford recreates this period of Los Angeles history in all its glorious strangeness.”—New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
“This is the definitive biography of a legendary figure in American history, in and out of sports. . . . Essential.”—Library Journal
“A full account of the legend and tragedy of Native American sportsman Jim Thorpe . . . Buford’s account brims with detail, all of it relevant to the telling.”—Booklist
“A professional biography has proved what sound research and skillful writing can do: reveal a singular man, animate the times of his life, and illuminate the complexities of our world today, which Jim Thorpe helped to shape.”—American Heritage
2011 SABR Larry Ritter Award
2010 Professional Football Researchers Association Nelson Ross Award