Strong As Sandow
written and illustrated by Don Tate
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
No doubt Eugen Sandow was the strongest of all strongmen. But he wasn't always strong.
Later known as "The Strongest Man on Earth", Friedrich Muller (1867-1925) started off his life in a frail state of health. While other children ran and played outside, he regularly stayed inside due to being ill. An excellent student, his father rewarded him with a trip where he viewed the statues of Roman gladiators. Inspired by these ancient musclemen, Friedrich exercised more than ever. Disturbed by the focus on physical activity, his father sent him to a university to build his mind. Sneaking away from classes one day to visit a traveling circus, Friedrich left the books behind to become an acrobat. All of the tumbling, flipping, and flopping started making a difference in his physique. With the circus turning out to be a temporary career for the budding muscleman, Friedrich turned to modeling for artists to pay the bills. One of these artists introduced him to a strongman who gave Friedrich a place at his gym and a turning point in life. Lifting heavier and heavier weights, not only did he become stronger, but also wiser in the business of being strong. Having changed his name to Eugen Sandow, the young man in his early twenties was about to take his shot (yes, a Hamilton reference). Two professional strongmen boasted nightly from a London stage that no one could defeat them in a strength competition. Eugen defeated them both and was on his way to fame and fortune. He toured America to much applause, but the road was a tough place to stay healthy and he eventually went back home to England. Needing a change of pace, Eugen opened a gym and focused on promoting exercise and healthy eating. He also started the first organized bodybuilding contest. Wanting to be like Eugen, many people turned to living a healthier lifestyle.
In his Author's Note, Don Tate explains that his personal interest in bodybuilding led to the writing of Strong As Sandow. His desire to get stronger mirrored Sandow's. He also tells how this was a challenging book to write as there were many contradictions between sources and Sandow's family destroyed his personal belongings after the strongman's death. He decided to tell the story how Sandow would have wanted which makes this a great opportunity to talk about point of view in the classroom. Tate's telling of this fascinating life is terrific. His Afterword and Author's Note are superb as he explains why Sandow was an important figure in his time period. Tate even includes exercises that students can practice to become as strong as Sandow. As a teacher and a parent, I appreciate the author's emphasis on teaching children how to live a healthier lifestyle. It's a unique story that will be a welcome addition to a biography unit. If you do a wax museum in your class, someone will want to be as strong as Sandow.