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Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe Paperback – Mar 1 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (March 1 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803240899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803240896
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.5 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,220,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Impeccably researched. . . . This retrospective is not the first to tackle the complex life of Jim Thorpe, but it’s the most comprehensive. . . . [It] captures Thorpe’s breathtaking highs and heartrending lows.”—Kirkus

“[Buford] knows about mythic heroes and draws a complex portrait of Jim Thorpe: from his superhuman athletic talents to his all-too-human flaws.”—Washington Post
(Washington Post)

“[Buford] lays a firm, clear historical groundwork for the reservation life and Indian world in which Thorpe grew up in Oklahoma. . . . [It] brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. . . . Through Thorpe’s struggles and striving, Buford recreates this period of Los Angeles history in all its glorious strangeness.”—New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
(New York Times)

“This is the definitive biography of a legendary figure in American history, in and out of sports. . . . Essential.”—Library Journal
(Library Journal)

“A full account of the legend and tragedy of Native American sportsman Jim Thorpe . . . Buford’s account brims with detail, all of it relevant to the telling.”—Booklist

“A professional biography has proved what sound research and skillful writing can do: reveal a singular man, animate the times of his life, and illuminate the complexities of our world today, which Jim Thorpe helped to shape.”—American Heritage
(American Heritage)

About the Author

Kate Buford is the author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life. She has written for the New York Times and has been a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition and American Public Media’s Marketplace.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Most researched book to date, not a page turner though Feb. 13 2011
By J. Warner - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always known this incredible story had, amazingly, never been written before by anyone other than someone in the 1950s, and was THE story ripe for a national best seller. I was so confident "The Jim Thorpe Story" had finally arrived when I learned of this new book that I sent a second copy to a professor friend sight unseen when I ordered mine. I knew it was going to be the one book I stayed up all night with and read cover-to-cover. A month later it's sitting on the stand, the bookmark about halfway through. The author has so much research into this that I'm puzzled by what a weak storyteller she is. I wanted it to be great...but it has no cadence, and is agonizingly deflating by what appears to be the author's lack of intuition on what is interesting and remarkable, and what isn't. There is less than a page, for instance, on the boat ride over to Stockholm for the Olympics. I don't even know how long it took. Odd blurt-outs such as "Jim was an excellent ballroom dancer" are editorialized remarks made in passing with no further comment. I asked my friend if it was me "just not getting it" and he hadn't finished the book either. Still, whenever I do finish it, I'll know so much more about the life and times of Jim Thorpe than I did before...I already do. It just wasn't the fun adventure.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Don't Miss This Dec 4 2010
By Marilyn Johnson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a must-read book for anyone who cares about biography, history, sports, native Americans, Hollywood, or the human condition. It has it all in the form of the charismatic Jim Thorpe, a spectacular talent whose exploits would be hard to believe if such a trustworthy and gifted writer as Kate Buford weren't describing him. How could a football player catch his own punts?... have reactions "so fast that sometimes you couldn't follow them with the eye"?.... leave his nearest rivals so far in the dust one is tempted to think of Secretariat?... And how could someone as beloved as Thorpe been so unfairly stripped of his Olympic medals? In Buford's hands, the man's larger-than-life accomplishments and all-too-human failures and contradictions are balanced and given historical context-- and the reader can't help but mourn his passing.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Jim Thorpe- an outstanding bio of a 20th century superstar Dec 3 2010
By LL Flippin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in the famous Olympic decathalon champion and for some, the greatest football player ever, who happened to be a native american , read this book! And for anyone interested in the early history of track & field, football, the "real" Pop Warner, baseball, the AAU/Avery Brundage/amateurism, the birth of professionalism, native american politics, racism and Hollywood- this book has it all. Kate Buford has done a superior job of definitive research supporting her bittersweet portrait of a national legend.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe" Dec 8 2010
By Jim Campbell - football historian - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kate Buford's "Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe" is an informative and entertaining read. Her years of exhaustive and intensive research show--virtually every page is a "learning experience." Of course, all the legendary aspects of Thorpe's remarkable life are explained in nuanced detail (football All-America, Olympic glory and disgrace, major league baseball player, and pro football pioneer,) but what separates this Jim Thorpe book from the others is her unique treatment of Thorpe's post-playing career--a subject woefully glossed over in previous biographies. I've never seen such a meticulous accounting (detailed, but far from dull) of his Native American activism and his Hollywood days, as well as his everyday life. Especially interesting was how East Mauch Chunk and Mauch Chunk merged to become the town of Jim Thorpe (Pennsylvania) without Thorpe ever having been there. Anyone the least bit interested in Thorpe, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, or Native American life would do well to purchase and read this all-encompassing work.

Jim Campbell - football historian
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Moments . . . Few Epiphanies Oct. 24 2013
By Roderick T. Leupp - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was born just shortly after Jim Thorpe died and took an early interest in him. This book is carefully researched. The writing is not as good as the research, somewhat surprising given the other publishing credits of the author. At the end the reader may still not realize "who is the real Jim Thorpe?" This is likely because of the inherent ambiguity of the subject's life.

Among the questions left unanswered for this reader are these, at a minimum: a) did Jim Thorpe continue to train as an athlete in his later years? We are informed that in middle age he could still punt a football 75 yards. Whence cometh this persisting athletic prowess? The reader is left to guess. b) could Jim Thorpe rightly be classified as an alcoholic? This question is likely not relevant to the story line, but there is never a hint given that Thorpe might have sought treatment for any malady related to his consumption of alcohol. The biography does relate how Jim bought and sold not a few bars and restaurants after his athletic glory days were over.

In some ways this seems like a kind of travelogue of Jim Thorpe's life where the reader is left to find the underlying "meta-narrative." The author does not delve very deeply into what Jim may have thought of himself. Maybe there is no residual evidence. Toward the start of the book the author reports that Jim called himself 5/8 Indian, but does not explore the cultural ramifications of this claim. To use language sometimes applied to Jesus Christ and the Christian view of the atonement, it seems like Jim Thorpe was both victor and victim.

I will not be returning to this volume, and likely will not read another Thorpe biography. The best tidbits in this volume are some of the contemporary news clippings the author unearthed. Some of these analyses of Jim in his athletic glory are memorable, for example the contrast between Jim's football running style, and a conventional baseball running style.