Eric Liddell was an amazing athlete, having taken gold in the 1924 Olympics in the 400m. The movie, Chariots of Fire, was made about Mr. Liddell and Harold Abrahams, the 400m and 100m champions in 1924, both competing for Great Britian.
Stuart Weir did the reviews below on books on Eric Liddell.
While, Eric Liddell won gold in the 400m and bronze in the 200m at the 1924 Olympics, he is arguably best known for his decision not to run in the 100m – his strongest event – because his Christian principles did not allow him to run on Sundays. He competed only in the 1924 Olympics, retiring from elite sport to become a missionary in China.
He has been the subject of at least 12 books, a movie and various TV series. I am choosing what I regard as the three best books about him.
Scotland’s Greatest Athlete: The Eric Liddell Story, DP Thompson, The Research Unit, Crieff 1970, Republished 1971 as Eric H Liddell: Athlete and Missionary No ISBN
For the Glory (The life of Eric Liddell), Duncan Hamilton, London, Doubleday, 2016. ISBN 9780857522597
Running the race, John W Keddie, Evangelical Press, Darlington, 2008 ISBN 13 978 0 85234 665 5 (256 pages including 18 pages of athletics results and about 70 photos)
Scotland’s Greatest Athlete
The book is the best primary source of material on Liddell as it is written by DP Thompson who knew Eric well from his student days onward. On Eric’s decision not to take part in the 1924 Olympic 100 meters because it was on Sunday, Thompson records simply. “He said quietly but firmly, ‘I’m not running. That decision there could be no hope of changing; it was based on principles from which he never deviated by a hairsbreadth”.
Thompson records a newspaper report that Liddell received no invitation to run in the 1928 Olympics but does not comment on whether he believed this to be accurate or not. He reports that Eric considered a comeback while on furlough from China but Thompson and others dissuaded him.
A weakness in Thompson’s writing is that he did not value Eric’s athletics beyond the platform it gave him to proclaim the Christian gospel. This is illustrated by the following sentence: “I pass over Eric’s subsequent athletic achievements before he left for China; they were all of a piece with all that had gone before”.
For the glory
The book is meticulously researched with 30 pages of notes and sources given. The author states that he travelled 20,000 miles in researching the story. An epilogue to the book draws heavily on his conversations with Eric’s daughters.
The book is excellent in its treatment of Liddell’s athletics career leading up to Paris and also authoritative about Eric’s attitude to his participation in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. It also describes, in more detail than I can recall elsewhere, the races which took place in the prison camp. In the following phrase the book seems to sum up the essence of Liddell the athlete: “In the dash to the tape, however, Liddell suspended friendship. He was fearsomely focused, the empathy he instinctively felt for others never slacking his desire to beat them”. My only quibble would be with the assertion that the crowd in the Stade Colombes gave Liddell the longest and loudest ovation of the Games because the “sacrificial romance” attached to his victory. I wonder how many of the French crowd would have had any idea about the background.
The book is also excellent on Eric’s time in China, giving extensive detail of the period in the prison camp, drawing on interviews and printed material from others who were there with him. The discussion of the influence of DP Thompson on Liddell and the context of Liddell’s refusal to run on Sunday are also well set out. The weakest part of the book is that author seems not really to understand Eric Liddell’s Christian faith.
Running the race
John Keddie establishes his credentials to write the book. He has met DP Thompson, Eric’s mentor and first biographer. He has met members of Eric’s family. He was a consultant on the film, Chariots of Fire. (Page 11-26). What is more he is an historian of Scottish Athletics as well as an ordained minister and a Scot.
His book includes the most comprehensive list of Eric’s races. The explanation of the significance of handicap races in that era of athletics was interesting.
Other books on Eric Liddell
Eric Liddell, Something greater than Gold, Janet and Geoff Benge, YWAM, Seattle, 1998 (203 pages) ISBN 1-57658-137-3
Eric Liddell, Ellen W Caughey, Paperback Barbour Publishing, Incorporated, February 2000. (203 pages) ISBN 1-577748-667-6
The Flying Scotsman Sally Magnusson, Quartet Books, 1981. ISBN 0 7043 3379 1 (191 pages)
God’s Joyful Runner, Russell Wilcox Ramsey, Bridge-Logos, 1998.
Complete Surrender, Julian Wilson, Monarch, 1996. (157 pages – 12 Pages of photos) ISBN 1 85424 348 9
Eric Liddell, Catherine Swift, Bethany House, 1990. (176 Pages) ISBN 1-55661-150-1
Eric Liddell: the making of an athlete and the training of a missionary, D P Thompson, The Eric Liddell Memorial Committee, Glasgow 1945 (40 pages)
Eric Liddell: Pure Gold by David McCasland, Discovery House, Michigan 2001 ISBN 0-57293-051-9
Bring me my chariot of fire, Hugh C Shields, Grosvenor House Publishing, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78623-842-9
For reviews of these books see https://www.veritesport.org/?page=bookreviews&brcat=eric&brcattitle=Eric_Liddell
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