Category Archives: Reading

Duel In The Sun

Duel In the Sun: The Story of Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon – John Brant

In the twilight years of amateur running in the Boston Marathon before prize packages were introduced to incentivize big names and bigger turnouts, elite runners duked it out on 26.2 miles of pavement from Hopkinton to Boston for nothing other than bragging rights. Perhaps the greatest battle of all was the famed “duel in the sun” in 1982 between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Beardsley had been favored to win the marathon until Salazar, the runner that confidently proclaimed improbable goals before his races only to demolish them, entered two months prior to the marathon. In a fierce contest of mental stamina and physical endurance, Beardsley and Salazar ran shoulder to shoulder for the last 9 miles of the race with no other competitors in sight. Although both men spent years dreaming about Boston and 2:09 minutes engaged in intense battle, the aftermath of the marathon was perhaps the most pivotal part of each man’s life. Salazar slowly descended from a promising career to one plagued by nagging and indeterminate maladies. Beardsley’s professional running career was cut short by ACL surgery shortly after the marathon, but his life was much more significantly impacted by addiction. In retrospect, each of the runners traces the change in their life trajectory back to the duel in the sun.

“Duel in the Sun” by John Brant chronicles much more than the famed race of ’82. Featuring two competitors, Brant spends time exploring the backgrounds of each runner, how they found their way to elite running, and the unexpected paths their lives branch out on after the culmination of the race. A thorough historian, Brant traces Cuban-American Salazar’s family history back to the days when his father was a resistor-in-arms with Castro before fleeing to the United States when he no longer felt safe under Castro’s communist Cuba. Similarly, Brant explores Beardsley’s country childhood and farming work ethic, as well as how the alcoholism of both his parents contributed to his genetic predisposition and later addiction to painkillers. As a sports writer, Brant focuses in on relevant details of training, racing, and everything else related to running without going into the weeds with nuance. At the same time, he offers a holistic picture of each runner and their experience by including how their childhoods shaped not only everything leading up to the duel in the sun, but also everything that came after. The result is a gripping retelling of an amazing race that considers all the factors at stake.

I love this book! The chapters alternate between runners, focusing on experiences before the marathon that influenced their running as well as significant moments after the marathon as the runners struggled to make meaning of the difficulties in their lives. Throughout the dueling narratives runs the theme of the ’82 Boston Marathon, which unites the multiple storylines. I was also pleased with the respectful tone Brant takes toward each of the runners’ struggles, rather than exploiting individual difficulty for consumption and comparison. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in running.

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The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – by Michelle Alexander

After centuries of effort to establish a country in which people can supposedly pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, our society has reached a generation in which we can point to a former Black president and declare that we are a post-racial society. Or are we? In a thoroughly researched and relentless retelling of the social history of the United States, Michelle Alexander makes that argument that not only has the U.S. failed to achieve this goal, but rather has maintained a carefully calculated and redesigned system founded on racial oppression in the form of mass incarceration. As a direct result of the War on Drugs, Black and brown men have been incarcerated at astonishing rates, suffering social, financial, and political exclusion that endures long after completing a prison sentence. These actions have been legitimated by overtly by policies, funding allocations, and court decisions, and insidiously by pitting the poorest and most marginalized Americans against each other to ensure factions do not come together to enact a change in power, much less an entire restructuring of the social system. And all within a supposedly post-racial society.

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander is an astounding, horrifying, and unfortunately believable study of how the institution of slavery eventually led to the institution of mass incarceration. The transition of racist sentiment from overt acts of hostility to unnoticeable (to Whites) microaggressions has created a culture in which racism is abhorred and unable to be discussed. As a result, issues defined by racial boundaries, particularly mass incarceration, are also not up for discussion. Alexander supports her connections among slavery, Jim Crow, and colorblindness with an exhaustive list of research, court decisions, and policies. More importantly, she demonstrates the racism inherent in the War on Drugs with the exact same research, although explicit claims of racist actions cannot be made in a supposedly colorblind society (another Catch-22 upheld by court review). After delineating each of these devastating connections, Alexander then goes on to describe the long-term impact of the War on Drugs on the individuals and communities most impacted by them. Deprived on basic human dignity and relegated to a life of presumed criminality, the men locked behind bars for petty drug crimes face a lifetime of punishment, even if they do not receive a life sentence.

Wow! This book…wow! I would like to call it unbelievable, except that Alexander clearly supports each and every argument she makes throughout the book. Not to be glanced through, this book needs to be fully digested, and preferably regurgitated in conversation with others. My one criticism is that although she excellently calls out racism despite the supposed colorblindness of U.S. society, I felt that some of her arguments were not as nuanced in relation to gender norms, and particularly expected male behavior. Regardless of the dense reading and occasional gendered statements, this book is an absolute must-read!

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