Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

When 19-year-old Jim Thorpe (1888-1955) joined Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School's football team in 1907, it was the fastest team in the country. Already the school's track star, Thorpe was, self-admittedly, "a scarecrow dressed for football" when he approached Coach "Pop" Warner, who promptly told him to take a hike. Thorpe persisted, demonstrating "a combination of power, agility and speed Pop Warner had never seen in one player--and never would again." History proved Warner to be football's "most innovative coach"; Thorpe, of the Potawatomi tribe of Oklahoma, would become "the greatest star the sport had ever seen."

Three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin (Bomb; The Port Chicago 50; Most Dangerous) deftly balances the exhilarating glory of Thorpe's story and early American football history with the inequity and inhumanity of the Native American experience. His outrage at these atrocities is most evident when he discusses Thorpe's double gold victory at the 1912 Olympics, for the pentathlon and decathlon. While Thorpe won under the U.S. flag, he was actually not an American citizen, despite his indigenous heritage: another dozen years lapsed "before Congress would pass a law extending citizenship to all American Indians."

With contagious excitement, Sheinkin enthralls readers with the Carlisle team's--and Thorpe's--stupendous feats. Abundant historical photographs enhance the story. If Undefeated seems overloaded with superlatives, Sheinkin meticulously supports his proclamations of "firsts, mosts, bests" with 30-plus pages of citations. Despite the bad and ugly, good triumphs here. Never excusing the adversity Thorpe and his community suffered, Sheinkin compels readers to learn, admire and bear witness to the "world's greatest athlete." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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