Book Review of
Path Lit By Lightning
Path Lit By Lightning by David Maraniss was published in 2022.
Path Lit By Lightning is about the life of Jim Thorpe, but it is about so much more than his life.
The story of Jim Thorpe cannot be told without telling the story of Native Americans and what happened to them in the late 1800s and the first part of the 1900s.
I have lived in Oklahoma for almost thirty years. My husband is Native American and grew up in Oklahoma. He went to a high school near the tribal headquarters of the Cherokee Nation.
The life of Jim Thorpe is someone that most people in Oklahoma have learned about, but this book shares so much more of the story than most people, even in Oklahoma know.
Jim Thorpe was born in May of 1887. He was born in Indian Territory, before the Land Rush in what would become the State of Oklahoma. He was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation. He won gold medals in the 1912 Olympics and was known as the greatest athlete of all time.
Jim Thorpe was known as a famous athlete, but so much more than athletics shaped his life.
His story outside of being an athlete, is also the story of Oklahoma and Native Americans. It is the story of the life too many Native Americans lived.
Like so many others of his time, Jim was sent away to Indian School, far away from the place he called home. The goal was to “civilize” the kids and to make them conform to what the government thought they should be like.
In some cases, the kids lived a far better life, but in far too many cases life at the schools was horrible. The school and government officials were often more concerned about money than the kids that they were supposed to care for.
In Jim’s case, I think the results were mixed. The school did not do much for Jim’s education, and his experiences at the school were not great. But, it did help him become the world-famous Olympian that he did: I am not sure Jim Thorpe would have become the famous athlete if he had not been sent away to school. His life would have been totally different had he stayed in Oklahoma.
Jim Thorpe lived a complicated life. He was Indian, living in a white man’s world. He was proud of his Indian heritage, but people often used it against him in order to make money. In many ways, he became a sideshow of what people thought Indians were supposed to be.
Like far too many Native Americans, and people in general, Jim had a love of alcohol that in many ways ruined his life. He was a drifter, always looking for work and a way to make money.
He was married three times and had seven children. He was rarely home enough to be a good husband and father. And when he was home, alcohol kept him from being the father that he should have been.
Jim Thorpe’s life to me was a sad story of a man who was often taken advantage of, but also of a lost man longing for a place in a world that he did not fit into.
Path Lit By Lightning is an important book. It weaves so much about Oklahoma and Native American history into the story of Jim Thorpe. If you want to know more about Native Americans and how they were treated this is a great book to read.
If you love sports, this would also be a great read. Since Jim Thorpe played baseball and football, the book weaves a ton of football and baseball history into the story, especially about Pop Warner and the early days of football. If you think you know who Pop Warner was, you probably don’t the whole story.
I am glad I read this book, but I will say it was long and technical at times. Important books are not necessarily the best books. This read to me much like a presidential biography would. It was over 650 pages. It took me a while to get through because at times it was a bit dry. But those kinds of books are good for us to read. Books like this challenge us and show us a world that we often know nothing about.