November 17, 2017

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Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin | SLJ Review

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redstarSHEINKIN, Steve. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. 288p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. photos. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439542.

NF-Sheinkin-UndefeatedGr 6 Up –Proclaimed “the greatest all-around athlete in the world” by legendary football coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, Jim Thorpe dominated sports in the early 1900s. His natural athleticism, in tandem with Warner’s innovative coaching style, helped establish the Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s football program as one of the nation’s best, eclipsing perennial gridiron powerhouses Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Despite the fame and attention Carlisle received because of its winning team, a stark reality existed: the cultures of these same young men were being systematically eradicated by the school (e.g., prohibiting students from speaking Native languages, forcing them to cut their hair). Operating under the premise that the “Indian problem” could be solved by stripping students of their cultural identities, Carlisle founder and superintendent Richard Henry Pratt, a U.S. Army captain, vowed to “Kill the Indian; Save the Man” through any means necessary. Sheinkin has created a rich, complex narrative that balances the institutionalized bigotry and racism of the times with the human-interest stories that are often overshadowed by or lost to history. Within this framework, he brings to life the complicated, sometimes contentious relationship between a coach and a star athlete, their rise to glory, and the legacies they left behind. VERDICT A thoroughly engrossing and extensively researched examination of football’s first “all-American.” Highly recommended for U.S. history collections.–Audrey Sumser, Kent State University at Tuscarawas, New Philadelphia, OH

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2017 issue.

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