Bookworm: ‘Path Lit by Lightning’ a timely biography

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Path Lit By Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe”

  • By David Maraniss
  • c. 2022, Simon & Schuster
  • $32.50, 659 pages

You’re a lot stronger than you think. Physically, you can run faster, jump higher, land firmer, and throw farther than others. You take your place among the winners. Psychologically, you’re resourceful, smart, decisive, wise. You’re a lot stronger than you think, no matter what – as in the new book “Path Lit by Lightning” by David Maraniss – anybody tries to tell you.

“Path Lit By Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe” by David Maraniss.

One can almost imagine the kind of childhood that Jim Thorpe had.

He was born in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma in 1887 to a “wayward father” who had multiple wives. Life then was “volatile,” says Maraniss, but the Thorpe family was “better off than most,” because they had a farm with a large farmhouse. That changed shortly after the Dawes Act was passed, which allowed government distribution of Native lands to non-Native people, and the assimilation of Native Americans into Euro-American life.

Thorpe was just seven years old when his assimilation began at a “government institution.” He was introduced to football at Haskell, a school in Kansas, when he was eleven; at the end of his time there, he spent a year working in Texas before arriving at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Thorpe didn’t like Carlisle, and he didn’t generally like working on nearby farms for Carlisle’s “Outing Program.”

He ran away more than once.

“Path Lit By Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe” author David Maraniss.

Some time before he did, though, Carlisle had begun a focus on athletics, and had hired Pop Warner, a young hotshot football coach to lead the program – which meant nothing to Jim Thorpe, until...

Legend has it that Thorpe was never much for sports until one day, he was on his way from one job to another, wearing work clothes and “borrowed gym shoes” when he saw the Carlisle track team at practice. He asked if he could try the high jump and the team scoffed.

They didn’t scoff when he easily topped their best.

Neither did Coach Warner, who snatched Thorpe on the spot for his football team.

If you are a reader of certain kinds of non-fiction books, “Path Lit by Lightning” may disappoint you from the get-go.

Just by looking at it, you can tell that it’s not only about the life of athlete Jim Thorpe. No, author David Maraniss spreads his hands far and wide in a century-and-a-half tale of America, sports, and then-current events, spanning the world, politics, and injustices that are impossible to read now without cringing. This makes a great story but so wide is its presentation, that it’s almost as if there are multiple books between the covers of this volume. Readers may find that Jim Thorpe occasionally gets lost in the telling, which could be concerning for someone who prefers spare, lean biographies and just the facts.

But can you miss the delicious extras? If you prefer rail-thin biographies, that’s a decision to make. If you’re looking for a tale that sweeps around the world, though, and lands in the news just a few weeks ago, “Path Lit by Lightning” is a strong contender.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.

5 can’t-miss new books

In search of something good to read? USA Today’s Barbara VanDenburgh scopes out the shelves for this week’s hottest new book releases. All books are on sale Tuesday.

For more new must-read book recommendations, check out our summer books guide of the 20 hottest books of the season; our favorite books of 2022 so far; the most swoon-worthy August rom-coms, including Julia Whelan’s "Thank You for Listening" and Alexis Hall’s "Husband Material"; and the juiciest celebrity memoirs released this year from Jennette McCurdy, Kenny Loggins, Christine Quinn, Jennifer Grey and more. 

To see what everyone else is reading, check out the USA Today Best-Selling Books list for this week’s best sellers.

“Afterlives”

  • By Abdulrazak Gurnah (Riverhead, fiction)

What it’s about: From the Tanzanian-born British author and winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature comes a saga set against the colonization of east Africa, where as a boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents by German troops.

The buzz: A starred review from Kirkus Reviews calls it "a novel with an epic feel, even at 320 pages."

“A Place in the World: Finding the Meaning of Home”

  • By Frances Mayes (Crown, nonfiction)

What it’s about: The author of "Under the Tuscan Sun" is known for her wanderlust and travels across Italy, but her latest is a collection of personal stories reflecting on the comforts of home.

The buzz: A starred review in Publishers Weekly calls it a "rich testament to the pleasures of wanderlust and permanence is a gift as well."

“My Government Means to Kill Me”

  • By Rasheed Newson (Flatiron, fiction)

What it’s about: Newson’s debut novel is a queer coming-of-age story about Earl "Trey" Singleton III, a young, gay, Black man in 1980s New York City who finds himself in the midst of the AIDS crisis.

The buzz: Publishers Weekly calls it "an eloquent story of the struggle for gay liberation."

“Haven”

  • By Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown, fiction)

What it’s about: The author of "Room" returns with a new novel set in 7th-century Ireland, where three monks vow to leave the sinful world behind and find refuge – and tribulation – on an isolated island.

The buzz: Kirkus Reviews calls it "more fine work from the talented Donoghue."

“Amy Among the Serial Killers”

  • By Jincy Willett (St. Martin’s Press, fiction)

What it’s about: In Willett’s third book in the series, Amy Gallup, a retired writing instructor, hears from her former student Carla Karolak when her therapist turns up dead and finds herself swept up in a murder investigation.

The buzz: A starred review in Kirkus Reviews calls it “a riotous, breathless, winking, strangely feel-good romp.”