Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: 26.2 Miles to Boston (2014)

By Michael Connelly

The book "26.2 Miles to Boston" has a rather interesting history.

Author Michael Connelly first came out with a book called "26 Miles to Boston" about a decade ago. Based on the comments on Amazon.com, readers seemed to like it's recap of the history of the Boston Marathon - except for those who were enraged that Connelly ran the race as a bandit as part of his research.

Now comes an updated version. As you'd expect, some of the information including this time around centers on the 2013 race, with its terrorist bombing near the finish line. The author's tale about running as a bandit opens the book here, and thus will anger those same people over again.

That makes it a little difficult to judge the remake. But that's our job here, and "26.2 Miles to Boston" is something of a mixed bag.

Connelly has a simple idea for the book. He takes the fabled route, mile by mile, and breaks it down. Since the race has been taking place since the 19th century, there's plenty of running history on those roads.

Sometimes the author covers a description of the course itself, launching a discussion of a particular strategy along the way. Sometimes there's a review of the neighborhood - as in some background on the cities or establishments that the Marathon touches. At other times there's a launching point into a discussion of the great races over the years. Those may only briefly touch on the particular mile at the time, but there are plenty of good stories that come out here. Connelly talked to a variety of runners - champions and also-rans - and spent some time scanning microfilm.

The result is rather uneven. The historical parts work best and are often quite interesting. However, the tangents off into the history of towns don't work quite as well. It's a little dry.

Meanwhile, Connelly covers the text with flowery language about the various aspects of the race.You'd call it hero worship if it were written about a person, but since it's about an athletic event it's simply fawning.

Let's put it this way. One of the great pieces of advice in writing is "show me, don't tell me." The Boston Marathon has had plenty said about its charms and place in athletic history, and this book has a lot of it down on paper. A book about it doesn't need a reverent, flowery approach. A straight-forward telling of the story would have been fine.

This book certainly has some appeal to those who run and/or love the race, and fits that niche nicely. However, "26.2 Miles to Boston" doesn't quite fully execute a good idea to take in more casual observers.

Three stars

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