The Kings of Distance: A Study of Five Great Runners- Book Review

I received this ebook for review from NetGalley. I am not obligated to give a positive review, but I am obligated to inform the reader of the reveiw. Consider yourself informed.

This was a hard one for me. I love running and I love a good race tale. Why this one was difficult was mostly because of NetGalley. I love the company and the opportunity to receive books to reviews, but they don’t always come formatted to read easily. This was one of those books. There were no paragraph breaks or chapter breaks, so it was line after line of text with an occasional bold text to let the reader know that we were on to the next runner. There would also be footnotes within the middle of the narrative, which just became confusing. This formatting gave me a lot of issues and made the book a difficult read.

The Kings of Distance: A Study of Five Great Runners by Peter Lovesey tells the stories of 5 great distance runners from 1863 to the late 1900s who held records for their races. We read about Deerfoot, a native American runner who ran in full garb, headdress and all on a tour of England. We also read about Walter George who desired to run the mile in 4 minutes and 18 seconds. There was Alfred Shrubb who had to run in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Paavo Nurmi held three records in the Olympics. Then he focuses on Emil Zatopek, who has been written about in several books because not only did he hold records in the Olympics, but one record was achieved when he decided to run, last minute and untrained, the marathon at the Olympics and won gold!

This is a reissue and an updated version of his 1981 release by a similar name- Five Kings of Distance which is no longer in print. The great thing was Lovesey created a wonderful picture of the time and what the race was like. The idea of people paying to watch a race for an hour or so between two men (or a few more) and to be huddled in was so well painted. He also paints pictures of times where these men would go on tour to compete with local runners who wanted a stab at glory. The book is reissued to include information leading up to the 2016 Olympics.

The negative was how much detail went into describing the races. The book is well researched and there is no doubt about that. The details become a bit maddening as the race story is told up until the last seconds detailing the race, the time, the conditions, and anything else one could imagine. The sheer number of details would be great for someone who really cared about them, but I found they often got in the way of the storytelling.

When Lovesey stuck to the story, it was a great read. When he got lost in the details the book became a little dry. Having it in the format that I had it, some parts were almost unbearable to read.

The other difficulty is some runners, such as Zatopek (who is featured on the new cover) have had other books written about them that were a bit better. Whereas the first runner featured- Deerfoot has had very little written about him. I wound up enjoying his story the most and it was also the first. So, I did question throughout the reading of the book- why is this being reissued? Who would read this?

If you are an avid history of running reader and would love to know more about the vast and long history of running, this book is definitely for you. Otherwise, sadly, it was a skip for me. I would rate it about 2.5 stars, simply for the beginning runners. Again, I will write, the formatting more than likely made the reading of the book a lower rating as well.

Here is an Amazon link- The Kings of Distance: A Study of Five Distance Runners by Peter Lovesey

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