Book Review: Bowerman & the Men of Oregon

Posted by Filed Under: Book Reviews, Gift Ideas for Runners

Bill Bowerman and the Men of OregonThis book has something for everyone. I’m giving it five Nike nike swooshes out of five.

Bill Bowerman coached the University of Oregon track team (“the Ducks”) for 25 years, but is most famous for co-founding Nike and coaching Steve Prefontaine.

Steve PrefontaineThose interested in these two stories won’t be disappointed with Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. The Nike story is explored in a depth that will likely surprise even the most avid Bowerman/Nike fan. And, of course, the Pre story is here too. Everything from his still-impressive domination of U.S. running to the heart-wrenching tale of his early passing – and its effect on Bowerman.Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

But the Nike and Pre stories are only small fragments of this epic biography. Epic because Bowerman was a legend long before Pre laced up his shoes, and because his influence continued to be felt long after Pre’s passing. It’s lucky for us that author Kenny Moore – a former Bowerman “Duck” and Sports Illustrated writer – took his time telling the Bowerman story:

  • It all starts with Moore delving into Bowerman’s love of Oregon. A sentiment founded upon tales of his ancestors – a hardy group of settlers who opened up the west and settled Oregon.
  • You’ll learn how Bowerman was raised in a one-parent home, and how his high school councilor changed his life by challenging him to never disgrace his mother.
  • You’ll follow him to war and discover the unlikely way he became decorated with the Silver Star for Gallantry.
  • You’ll get a glimpse into Bowerman’s incredible seven decade relationship with his wife, Barbara.
  • You’ll trace the path that led to the popularization of jogging in North America – how the running boom of the 70’s was a phenomenon that started with Bowerman making a trip to New Zealand, and receiving a rather painful, humbling lesson at the hands of coaching legend Arthur Lydiard.
  • You’ll get on board with Bowerman’s fondness for Canadian athletes (yeah!) and why he enlisted them to help build his house.
  • You’ll take a seat for the first 4-minute mile on U.S. soil – a milestone set by an athlete Bowerman coached in a race that saw John Landy beaten in the process.
  • wbnorman_narrowweb__300x4140.jpgYou’ll get Bowerman’s reaction to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black-gloved fist in the air demonstration at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
  • You’ll gain insight into Bowerman’s prophetic but unheeded concerns prior to the hostage tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
  • You’ll witness Bowerman’s bizarre method of hazing new recruits with urine, car keys and saunas.
  • And you’ll get an in-depth appreciation for the decades-long battle Bowerman and Pre waged against a corrupt national athletics organization.

All this, and much more, are part of Bowerman’s biography, but perhaps most important is that the “Men of Oregon” are featured throughout the entire book right alongside Bowerman (I suspect the way he would have wanted it). The pages are absolutely packed with stories of athletes and teams that made Oregon a dominant force in the US track scene. The reader is treated with insights into how those great teams trained and won. Races are dissected in a way that puts you right in the action. I was thoroughly envious of the passion not just Bowerman and his athletes had, but that their fans had. In the era of Bowerman, runners (not just Pre) were the rock stars of American athletics.

The love of competition – of races and race tactics – is joyfully embedded throughout this book. It’s a marvelous adventure.

If Kenny Moore’s intent in writing this book was to pay tribute to Bowerman and get you excited about the sport of running, I suspect he will succeed.

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About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Paul on May 19th at 11:23 pm

    This book should be in every runner’s library. With all the info in this book, it’s remarkable how Moore keeps it all glued together. It could be a testament on how good a writer he really is. The review, here, is first rate. One of the intriguing aspects of this book is that you can open it anywhere and become totally engrossed for ten pages. I did this for a week before I read the book all the way through.
    Disclaimer: being from the state of Oregon made this even more memorable for me, but don’t let that hinder you from reading this book.


  2. Book Review: "Bowerman & the Men of Oregon" | on May 22nd at 11:12 pm

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  3. RunColo on June 18th at 9:21 pm

    Great review, it was enough to make me buy the book. I just started it today. I’ll post a review once I am finished.