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Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football's Greatest Battle Hardcover – August 28, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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*Starred Review* "Remember that it was the fathers and grandfathers of these Army players who fought your fathers and grandfathers in the Indian Wars. Remember Wounded Knee." Now that is a pregame pep talk. It was delivered by legendary coach Pop Warner to the Carlisle Indian School football team minutes before the squad took the field against Army in 1912. Carlisle was led by Jim Thorpe, still basking in his gold-medal performance in the 1912 Olympics; Army's emerging star was a gritty, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust halfback named Dwight Eisenhower. Sports Illustrated writer Anderson reprises the landmark game in gripping, play-by-play fashion, but it is really the backstory that gives this thoroughly engaging book its bite: how Warner, college football's first superstar coach, found himself at an unheralded Indian school, and how he came to nurture Thorpe into becoming the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century; how Thorpe struggled with family tragedy and the identity-crushing regimen common to the Indian schools of the era; and how a tough, street-fighting kid from the wrong side of the tracks in Abilene, Texas, landed on the gridiron at West Point, where his determination to knock Thorpe out of the game with a bone-crushing hit almost derailed the future president's military career. Anderson allows himself to get inside the heads of his characters, but as in the best sports-centered narrative nonfiction (Hillebrand's Seabiscuit and Frost's Greatest Game Ever Played, for example), the technique is based on solid research. A great sports story, told with propulsive narrative drive and offering a fascinating look at multiple layers of American popular culture. Ott, Bill

About the Author

Lars Anderson is a Sports Illustrated staff writer and a graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of The All Americans. He lives with his wife in Birmingham, Alabama.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006600X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066001
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I heard about this book from my hairdresser and bought it for my husband. He loved it and told his friend about it so we bought it for him. Then my husband started lending his copy out to other people. He and our son enjoy history and enjoyed talking about it and the light shown on Eisenhower. It's finally here again and although I haven't read it myself, as you can see it has been very popular. I just may pick it up and read it myself. I have enjoyed hearing excerpts from it and have such respect for Jim Thorpe that I feel qualified to give it 5 stars from people who have read it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1912, one of the classic American football games was played--between Carlisle and mighty Army. A book published in 2007 covers much of the same territory, "The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation" by Sally Jenkins--and covers it well. But Lars Anderson's book, approaching the issues differently, likewise has created a wonderful examination of that game and events leading up to it.

The structure of Anderson's book weaves the story of three people together, culminating in that 1912 context. First, legendary coach Pop Warner; second, the great Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe; third, a gritty undersized football player and future military leader, Dwight Eisenhower. What was at stake in the Carlisle-Army game might be summarized by a segment of the pep talk Warner gave his team just before the contest began: "Remember it was their fathers and grandfathers who destroyed your way of life. Remember Wounded Knee. Remember all of this on every play. Let's go." And so the Indian team from Carlisle took on the Army team with those words ringing in their ears.

How did we get to this point? The book describes the arc of Warner's life, his childhood, his becoming an attorney, and the strange voyage leading him into coaching. Early on, he was a vagabond, moving from team to team (even leaving the position at Carlisle a bit before returning). He was an innovator and could inspire his team.

Then there was Thorpe, from the American Southwest. Growing up, he was always restless, would run away from school routinely. He ended up at Carlisle, but ran away from that institution, too. The book illustrates his foray into professional baseball during one such hiatus (which, of course, was to come back to haunt him).
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Format: Hardcover
As much as I appreciate the need for a book like this, and as much as I wanted to like it, I felt let down by the sloppy research into the game of football which Lars Anderson conducted.

Anderson writes this:

"In the huddle, Gus Welch told the Indians that they were finally going to use their secret weapon. Carlisle broke the huddle. At first the Indians settled into their standard power formation with two halfbacks and a fullback lined up behind the quarterback. But then Welch called out a signal, prompting the players to shift into the double-wing formation. Thorpe, who was at left halfback, moved closer to the line and crouched in a three-point stance to the outside of the left offensive tackle. The right halfback, Alex Arcasa, did the same thing and aligned himself to the outside of the right offensive tackle. A nervous chatter rose from the crowd as the Indian players shifted into new positions. No one was sure what Carlisle was doing or what Warner, the great football magician, was up to."

This is simply wrong in several ways. First, a double wing formation has two wingbacks aligned outside the offensive ENDS, not tackles. Next, the "standard power formation" which Anderson describes was, of course, the T formation which all teams had used up to 1905. However, Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner had been using variations of the single wing formation since 1906, and had forsaken the T completely by 1910, according to an interview he gave that year to a Philadelphia newspaper.

It is true that Warner unveiled the double wing against Army; but his standard formation by 1912 was the single wing, and shifting one back to the weakside of the single wing to create the double wing formation was hardly the gasp-inducing tactic that Anderson describes.
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Format: Paperback
This book is more fiction than fact...and lots of hype. It is pitted with errors, small and large. This game was never "football's greatest battle" and it was simply a coincidence that Eisenhower and Thorpe played against each other. I am not convinced that the Carlisle Indians were trying to get even with "whites," especially descendants of Army cavalry attending West Point. I am also not convinced that Eisenhower was so obsessed with taking Thorpe out of the game by physically injuring him. Eisenhower, Thorpe, and Warner are fascinating people and one would be better advised reading authoritative biographies of them by historians, not journalists.
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Format: Paperback
Before reading this book, I had only a very basic knowledge of Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School. Anderson's book gives a fascinating account of the origin and growth of the school and the role Jim Thorpe played in its football team's rise to fame in the early part of the twentieth century. As the title states, Thorpe and the school played West Point when Dwight Eisenhower was a cadet and on the football team. While I don't think the match up between Eisenhower and Thorpe is important, the story of Carlisle, Thorpe, Pop Warner, and the history of early football is riveting.
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