Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Book Poster Image
Thrilling account of early gridiron history.

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age 9+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team explores the early days of college football, concentrating on one exceptional player. The book is filled with telling anecdotes and illuminating photographs.

Positive Messages

Maintaining the language and customs of your ancestors is an important part of life. Even the most talented athletes need to practice diligently. Great things can be accomplished when people work together as a team.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jim Thorpe was not a good student, but he was an incredible athlete and a kind, compassionate human being. He never gave up in the face of adversity.


In its early years, football was an especially violent sport, resulting in a number of player deaths. Thorpe and his teammates were regularly "slugged" by their opponents, often offering punches in return.


Thorpe fell in love with Iva Miller and eventually married her.


Pop Warner's swearing is presented in cartoon language: "@#$%^!" Jim Thorpe says "hell" one or two times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pop Warner is a chain-smoker. Jim and his football teammates smoke cigars and occasionally get drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Undefeated is a nonfiction history book by Steve Sheinkin, author of Bomb and The Port Chicago 50. It depicts the early days of college football, focusing on Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, coach Glenn "Pop" Warner, and the men who joined them as members of the Carlisle Indians. The game was very violent in its beginnings, and so the book contains scenes of violence, with players seriously injured and even killed. The only strong language is an instance or two of "hell." Pop Warner was a chain-smoker, and Jim Thorpe was drunk on one occasion he later regretted.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byKate R. March 7, 2018

We were rivetted!!

Amazing book. My 9 year old son and I were rivetted the entire time. Good historical explanation for their age group.

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What's the story?

Although sports phenom Jim Thorpe is the ultimate focus of this biography, the entire Carlisle Indian School team gets it due as an early gridiron powerhouse. Thorpe met football mastermind Pop Warner in 1907, and together they forged one of the winningest teams in history. But Thorpe and his friends also waged battles off the field, defending themselves from violent persecution at school and prejudice from their opponents and their fans.

Is it any good?

Young football fans will be entranced by this thrilling account of gridiron greatness. In its early days, college football was more violent, slower, and the sport primarily of elite East Coast institutions. With an eye for the telling detail, author Steve Sheinkin shows how the game changed thanks to Jim Thorpe, coach Pop Warner, and the Carlisle Indians. These young men never gave up in the face of hardship, and the author takes care to recount their struggles off the field as well as on. Sheinkin celebrates the big-heartedness and physical prowess of Thorpe, but he also shows his flaws, as well as the more obvious ones of Pop Warner.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Undefeated depicts the early days of football. How has the game changed since then? Why are fans so passionate about their teams?

  • What role did violence play in early college football? Why was "slugging" allowed or at least ignored?

  • The Carlisle School was founded to remove Native American children from their ancestors and culture. Is that form of education productive? Can that philosophy be abusive?

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