Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Jesse Owens: An American Life, William J. Baker presents a straight narrative of Owens’ life without exaggerating praise or criticism. The chapters move chronologically from a fairly brief description of Owens’ rural childhood through his youth in a Cleveland ghetto to his famous victories in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The ensuing events of Owens’ hectic and essentially unstable life are shown as results of the national and worldwide fame that he gained at this spectacular event. Fortunately, one of the great German directors filmed these games so that ceremonial and personal events can still be verified. There is excellent footage recording Owens’ participation in the events and his winning of four gold medals.

The picture of young Owens as an athlete and as a person is presented against the backdrop of national, international, racial, and athletic history. His achievement is viewed in the context of the numerous accomplishments of African-American athletes during this time, including those of his friend and competitor Eulace Peacock. Baker’s story includes special information about Olympic personalities and politics, including those of Olympic Committee members and the group’s president, Avery Brundage, in the early twentieth century. The amount of historical material does not alter Baker’s focus on Owens. On the contrary, it creates a variety of additional dimensions, as in the account of how the media and athletics began...

(The entire section is 452 words.)