cover image Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe

Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe

David Maraniss. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (608p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4841-2

Biographer Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered) trains his keen eye on the remarkable career of Jim Thorpe (1887–1953), “an archetype, the great athlete, and a stereotype, the romanticized noble Indian... a foundation story of American sports.” Through archival research, interviews, and oral histories, Maraniss assiduously unpacks the “making of the man and the creation of the myth” surrounding Thorpe, the Olympic champion decathlete in track and field, centering his heritage from the outset and offering a historical overview of the kinds of discourse that would plague the athlete from the Sac and Fox nation for the entirety of his career. Along the way, he reveals striking resonances between Thorpe’s legacy and that of Sauk leader Black Hawk, a fellow “American Indian mythologized into spectacle,” nearly 80 years earlier—lending a new light to the racism Thorpe found himself up against, particularly in regard to the stripping of his 1912 Olympic gold medals for violating the rules of amateurism by being paid to play in the minor leagues from 1909 to 1910. While much attention is given to the prejudices Thorpe faced—and, later, his struggles with alcoholism—Maraniss’s work offers an equally fascinating look at his subject’s outsize talent as a man who excelled in the realms of baseball, football, and athletics broadly, tacked onto a vivid backdrop of sports culture in the first half of the 20th century. This essential work restores a legendary figure to his rightful place in history. (Aug.)