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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Duel in the Sun

Yeah, I know it's a bit late for a book review (it came out a year ago). But I'm an amateur and have to buy these things myself. Besides, the paperback edition comes out in three weeks.

The book traces the lives of both Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in flashback form while detailing their 1982 Boston Marathon battle. Brant does a good job of avoiding the problems usually found in this kind of material.

He doesn't shy away from telling us about the dark side of either athlete. For the first half of the book, I thought it ironic that Beardsley is the one named "Dick" because Salazar sure comes off as one. But around the same time that we learn about nice guy Beardsley's descent into drug addiction, we also get to see the humble side of Salazar.

The other problem inherent in biographies is a lack of plot. This is because life doesn't have a plot, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens. For example, Coal Miner's Daughter is a good film but at the end I found myself wondering what the whole point was. By contrast, Walk the Line builds towards a climactic moment. Brant accomplishes the same here by telling each runner's story in a topical rather than chronological fashion.

Brant gets all the little things right, too. I am ignorant of the Cuban-American exile community, and he could be way off base about it and I wouldn't ever know. But I do know plenty about addicts, and Brant's description of Beardsley's life before his horrific accident reveal an addiction waiting to happen. Based on that alone, I trust the author; and the superfan of track history in me didn't see a single error or exaggeration anywhere either.

Final judgement: on the same level as Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, and maybe better. Easily worth your $12.

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