First, let me say, as an endorsement of this book, I submit that I read a few chapters of it (7 and 8 in fact) serialized and in installments in the bi-monthly magazine "Marathon and Beyond": but I had just that one issue, Jan./Feb. of 2008 I believe and thought, wow! These two chapters are captivating reading, I've got to read this whole book! So I went to amazon and ordered it pronto and I'm glad I did. The serialized version in the magazine also contained illustrations adding to the story. That may have only been something the magazine did.
This is in some ways, the little brother of Chariots of Fire (Two-Disc Special Edition)and it is a very historic novel. As an example, I certainly did not know that in fact, there were Olympics games held in Athens in 1906, yes and that throws the 4 year timing of the normally accepted Olympics off; so in fact, those were not accepted as being Olympics but came to be called the "Intercalated games" (look it up) with the Olympics proper being held in St. Louis in 1904 and then there were the 1908 games held London. It all gets rather interesting, but little historic tidbits the book gives you sets your mind to wondering. Those games held in St. Louis in fact, were originally going to be held in Chicago. The 1904 World's Fair was in St. Louis, so somehow they moved the games there too, as Paris I believe had them both at the same time. Of course, I have pondered the meaning of the historic event mentioned most frequently in the book and that has to do with the 1908 Marathon with Dorando Pietri. It is quite famous in running lore and one should research and read it for oneself. Pietri led the Marathon but really broke down inside the stadium in the final laps and had to be bodily carried and did not win however, he is largely the face remembered for those Olympics. It is incredible that this key event now happened over a hundred years ago but it is the history of the Marathon and according to McNab, this heroism and event with Dorando helped fuel the whole Marathon boom!
Also, as is his right, the author I believe does take from real events that have happened, I've heard that a race like this, perhaps did take place during the depression years, however, I do need to research this more, however, let's say a sport icon in Great Britain would be the 1960s cyclist Tom Simpson, I personally believe there is one incident much modeled after him but I won't spoil it for anyone. Additionally, one of the main characters of the book is a Kate Sheridan, known uniquely as being one of the few women runners in the Trans-America race and so she is a bit of a pioneer in running long distances. I've got to think at times, she is reminiscent of Katherine SwitzerMarathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women's Sports with the same initials, K.S., known to be the first woman who ran the Boston Marathon some years ago. As if all of this history was not enough that the novel takes from, there is a lot of running inspiration in this book, I was reading it and got a good run in and thought of the book. No spoilers and it is somewhat known, but olive oil on the muscles surely does have it's benefits and that's one remedy Doc uses; so there is practical information in it as well.
There may be a few turns that get a bit way out for me but the reviewer was correct in that it is episodic at times like a tv show and easy enough to roll with it, it's not all that implausible as a whole. And some of it is indeed, very real, the first half of the book in particular when there was strife and a migration of workers to the West Coast as in the dust bowl days and then, through the eyes of another character, comparing it to say Scotland during the same era with what seems to be the author's own unique Scottish background. Of the half dozen or so principle characters of the book, McNab gives us the background of each so we kind of understand what makes them tick. In this vein, in fact, I would surmise that Lord Thurleigh in this book is in fact, much the same character as Lord Andrew Lindsay from Chariots and that is in fact, very plausible as the original Lord in the Chariots saga was in fact, somewhat fictional but loosely based on the real Lord Burghley who did not consent to his character being strictly used. The other characters in Chariots are in fact, portrayals of real persons such as Olympians Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddle but from that movie, I very much envision the role of Lord Thurleigh as being much like the Lord in Chariots and basically from what I can tell, is the same person fictionalized since both participated in the 1924 Paris Olympics. As I said, there is a lot of detail and thank goodness for that. It is fascinating to study up on.
In the early part of the 20th century, track and field runners in the US shared much public attention with sports like American football, boxing and baseball. A poll in the 1930s showed that 6 of 18 of the most popular sportsmen listed were indeed track and field athletes (see the book Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap).
Politics with the Olympic committee is likewise examined. We often don't care to hear words like "boycott" associated with the Olympics and the Olympics should be above politics but on the other hand, the Olympic committee surely was harsh on athletes like Jim Thorpe in regards to amateur status in the past.
What a chance encounter that I read those two chapters in that magazine and had to get this book and it is one I return to every now and then. It is a real treasure and doesn't falter as a short read but is indeed a long relaxing story and has inspired me to read more on earlier history of Olympic sport, but it's best point is that it has to be that it is inspirational as other readers say.