Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe (Hardcover)
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A riveting new biography of America’s greatest all-around athlete by the bestselling author of the classic biography When Pride Still Mattered.
Jim Thorpe rose to world fame as a mythic talent who excelled at every sport. He won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, was an All-American football player at the Carlisle Indian School, the star of the first class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and played major league baseball for John McGraw’s New York Giants. Even in a golden age of sports celebrities, he was one of a kind.
But despite his colossal skills, Thorpe’s life was a struggle against the odds. As a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, he encountered duplicitous authorities who turned away from him when their reputations were at risk. At Carlisle, he dealt with the racist assimilationist philosophy “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” His gold medals were unfairly rescinded because he had played minor league baseball. His later life was troubled by alcohol, broken marriages, and financial distress. He roamed from state to state and took bit parts in Hollywood, but even the film of his own life failed to improve his fortunes. But for all his travails, Thorpe did not succumb. The man survived, complications and all, and so did the myth.
Path Lit by Lightning is a great American story from a master biographer.
About the Author
David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post and a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and was a finalist three other times. Among his bestselling books are biographies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente, and Vince Lombardi, and a trilogy about the 1960s—Rome 1960; Once in a Great City (winner of the RFK Book Prize); and They Marched into Sunlight (winner of the J. Anthony Lucas Prize and Pulitzer Finalist in History).
“Goes beyond the myth and into the guts of Thorpe’s life, using extensive research, historical nuance and bittersweet honesty to tell the story of a gifted and complicated man. . . . Maraniss’ biography does justice to the struggles and triumphs of a truly great man.”
— Mary Ann Gwinn
“Path Lit by Lightning showcases Mr. Maraniss’s abilities as an indefatigable researcher and a deft prose stylist. . . . [Reveals] Thorpe as a man in full, whose life was characterized by both soaring triumph and grievous loss.”
— Andrew R. Graybill
“David Maraniss brilliantly rescues Jim Thorpe from myth and prejudice, restoring something more consequential than the Olympic medals stolen from him by small men—his humanity. This is another masterpiece from the master of biography.”
— Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella and Koufax
“Path Lit By Lightning is a flat-out masterpiece. The story of Jim Thorpe, one of America’s greatest and most misunderstood heroes, is told in riveting detail by David Maraniss, one of our greatest biographers. The result is a portrait as powerful, dazzling, and nuanced as Thorpe himself.”
— Jonathan Eig, author Luckiest Man, Opening Day and Ali: A Life
"A sensitive and compelling life of the great, ill-treated athlete Jim Thorpe. . . . Racism was a powerful element in Thorpe’s life, and Maraniss explores this topic with insight and nuance, just as he did in his biography of Roberto Clemente. . . . A tale that, though well known in outline, Maraniss enriches with his considerable skills as a writer and researcher."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In different hands I might be dubious, but David Maraniss revives the titanic Jim Thorpe for a new generation with a surgeon’s care, the diligence of a great researcher, and the poignance and humanity that is the signature of his writing. Path Lit By Lightning is a masterful look at this country’s first super-athlete, unflinching from what conquest did to his people, from the rousing and bittersweet journey of fame and identity, nor from an American century often far less heroic than the book’s protagonist. It’s simply brilliant.”
— Howard Bryant, author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
“Path Lit by Lightning is a captivating book by a master storyteller. David Maraniss provides new insights into Jim Thorpe, a man who was not only ‘the world’s greatest athlete,’ but a cultural icon complicated by the dynamics of race and celebrity.”
— Patty Loew, (Bad River Ojibwe), professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, and Inaugural Director, Center for Native American and Indigenous Research
“Before Shohei Ohtani, before Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson, Jim Thorpe was the world’s best athlete, and David Maraniss tells Thorpe's extraordinary, tragic story with all of the power and detail that it deserves.”
— Buster Olney, senior writer and analyst, ESPN
“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.”
— Publishers Weekly
"Maraniss’s book is the most comprehensive Thorpe biography to date. . . . Beyond bringing Thorpe to life, Maraniss also delves heavily into issues of race and culture."
— Library Journal