David Chapman’s revised and updated paper-back edition of Sandow the Magnificent is a thoroughly entertaining biography of the strongman-turned-entertainer, a saga that seems to mirror the proud progress of bodybuilding’s favorite son, the current governor of California.
“Becoming a unique presence in his own right…partly due to his ability to make himself the center of attention no matter where he went…was just more grist for…the publicity mill. Anything that kept this man in the public eye was money in the bank.”
As you read those sentences, imagine they were written about a young German-speaking strongman who came to America to find wealth and fame, became involved with an energetic promoter who took the young giant under his wing, taught him the business of showmanship and made him a star. It’s the story of Eugen Sandow, “the Strongest Man in the World” (or so he would have had the world believe).
Sandow used his good looks, intelligence, business savvy and knowledge of the legal system to forge an empire based on his claim to the title of the World’s Strongest Man. The nuances that colored Sandow’s life are pains-takingly re-corded in straightforward prose that’s both enlightening and enter-taining.
I found it hard to put the book down. I couldn’t get enough about Sandow’s bouts with vaudeville strongman “Samson,” a.k.a. Charles A. Samson—one of the more dubious professional Hercules—or Sandow’s legal dealings with Arthur Saxon, the only man to defeat him in a show of strength.
In promoting himself, Sandow started what we know today as bodybuilding competition and laid the groundwork for the Weiders, Schwarzeneggers, Cutlers and Colemans who would come after him. Without Sandow, bodybuilding might still be in the backrooms of athletic centers, and fitness might not have made it into the mainstream. IM