From Publishers Weekly
Buford (Burt Lancaster: An American Life) covers Thorpe's life of "high triumphs and bitter despair" in extensive detail. Thorpe (1888–1953), a "mixed-blood" Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma who starred for the legendary Carlisle, Pa., Indian school's college football team, won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, prompting the king of Sweden to declare him "the most wonderful athlete in the world." The next year, however, Thorpe was stripped of his gold medals after it was discovered he had violated the amateur athletic code by playing minor league baseball. The loss haunted him throughout his hardscrabble life in which he abused alcohol, married three times, constantly needed money, and was an absentee father. His peripatetic story included myriad roles: avid hunter and fisherman; professional baseball player in the major and minor leagues; pro football player; bit actor with often degrading nonspeaking Indian roles in many westerns as well as in other movies, including King Kong; merchant marine during World War II; security guard at a Ford plant; bar and restaurant owner; supporter of American Indian causes; and regular speaker on the lecture circuit. Buford reports the facts and dispels many fictions about this American icon.
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Buford gives a full account of the legend and tragedy of Native American sportsman Jim Thorpe, considered one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century—ESPN picked him seventh, ahead of Willie Mays, Bill Russell, and Gordie Howe. Bill Crawford’s All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe (2004) might be more popularly written, but Buford’s account, at some 170 more pages, brims with detail, all of it relevant to the telling, from the disastrous divvying up of Native American land that young Jim witnessed in 1890s Oklahoma; to Thorpe’s stellar performances in football, baseball, and track and field; to the stripping of his 1912 Olympics medals because he was paid to play baseball for two summers; and, finally, to the makeshift life he cobbled together after his playing days ended. Buford imparts a sense of the incandescent skills Thorpe applied to his sports, and the discrimination and self-destruction that shadowed him throughout his life. --Alan Moores