Native American Son


Native American Son

The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe

Kate Buford

528 pages
51 illustrations


March 2012


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


“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

“Buford reports the facts and dispels many fictions about this American icon.”—Publishers Weekly

“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

“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

“[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)

“[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

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Beginnings - Oklahoma Territory - 1887-1904
Chapter Two: Discovery - Winter 1904-Summer 1907
Chapter Three: Warm-up - Fall 1907-Spring 1909
Chapter Four: The Minors - Summer 1909-Summer 1911
Chapter Five: Football Phenom - Fall 1911-Spring 1912
Chapter Six: The Most Wonderful Athlete in the World - Summer-Fall 1912
Chapter Seven: The Public Glare - 1913-1914
Chapter Eight: The Majors and Ohio - 1915-1919
Chapter Nine: Out of the Public Glare - 1920-1929
Chapter Ten: Hollywood - 1930-1939
Chapter Eleven: Divorce, World War, and River Rouge - 1939-1945
Chapter Twelve: Rediscovery - 1945-1953
Epilogue - 1953-1983
Selected Bibliography


2011 SABR Larry Ritter Award
2010 Professional Football Researchers Association Nelson Ross Award

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