Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event

By Symington, Timothy | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event


Symington, Timothy, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event By Tom Derderian. Champaign, IL, 1994 (Hana Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL, 1994). $21.95 in paper.

Boston. The running community gives special meaning to the name. The twenty-six mile three hundred eighty-five yard trek from Hopkinton to Boston helps to make the Massachusetts holiday of Patriots Day so unique. Derderian's history is a commemoration of the race, which celebrated its centennial in 1996. The book focuses on each race, its participants and the events which surrounded the Marathon, all of which make the book an interesting study of Boston, Massachusetts, and the United States.

An introduction by Boston champions Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson sets the stage for the reader by emphasizing the importance of the Boston Marathon and how Derderian's history makes the reader eager to participate. Derderian himself states this goal as one of his reasons for writing.

"I wrote the book for three groups of people: those who have run or tried the Boston Marathon or any other; scholars, academics, and fans who want to find the whole Boston Marathon in one place; and runners who are training for the next Boston Marathon.

For readers in that last group, I hope every story will propel you out the door for a rapid training run" (xi).

Derderian then proceeds to list his sources for the book, which is the result of research done from old newspapers, written biographies, magazine articles and countless interviews with participants and nonparticipants alike.

The introductory chapter, 'Vhy They Come Back to Boston," is really the entire book in a nutshell. Almost all of the important people and events are mentioned in two pages. Derderian looks at the origins of the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) and marathon racing itself He explores the legend of Pheidippides, the ancient Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. and delivered a message proclaiming a military victory and then promptly dropped dead. Although Derderian disproves the legend, he still credits it with influencing the B.A.A. to establish its own marathon race in 1897.

Now begins the detailed chronological accounts of the entire Boston Marathon. Each chapter covers a decade of the Marathon's history. Derderian introduces each section with a list of U.S. presidents, Massachusetts governors, Boston mayors and population tallies for the U.S., Massachusetts, and Boston. A brief description of the decade is included, explaining to the reader the conditions of society in the country and the world. These descriptions add to the setting of each individual race.

Each race, beginning with the first in 1897 and finishing in 1993, receives a substantial amount of detail, depending on the events of the world and the race itself.

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