by Richard "Lucky" Luckman
149 pp. (Autobiography)
(Available at Amazon.com)
Champion by Choice is the autobiography of Richard Luckman, who became a powerlifting phenom in the early 1970s while in prison for armed robbery. The story is full of potential; my problem was that the powerlifting-focused book I wanted to read is very different from the general life history that Luckman wanted to tell.
The book starts briskly enough, with a short but frank history of Luckman's troubled young-adulthood, which landed him in jail. And Luckman does a great job of explaining how, once incarcerated, he found focus and self-worth through a growing interest in powerlifting. Luckman's straightforward, blunt descriptions of his competitions lack suspense, but that's OK: we still get a solid sense of the difficulties and rewards of being a world-class athlete while in prison.
But by the mid-1970s — or almost exactly 50% of the way through Champion by Choice — Luckman largely lost interest in competitive lifting. And his autobiography loses focus as a result: the entire second half meanders through Luckman's romantic interests and work history through the decades after he left prison. Some of this is amusing, but the constant string of "and then I went here, and then there, and then here . . ." becomes numbing.
Even worse, Luckman omits his post-prison powerlifting successes altogether. The back cover teases us that Luckman "at the age of fifty-eight [set] state and US records at the Senior Weightlifting Championships in West Allis, Wisconsin, and [won] gold at the Olympic Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the age of sixty-three." This sounds like an incredible story. But unbelievably, the text of Champion by Choice fails to mention — much less discuss — these accomplishments at all.
Beyond these substantive issues, Champion by Choice is riddled with typos (at least in the electronic edition I read), occasionally to the point of incomprehensibility. I recognize that Luckman self-published his book, and that, as such, it likely was not reviewed by an editor. Nonetheless, as of this writing, Champion by Choice costs $9.95 for the electronic edition, or $24.95 for a paperback. At this price, it is disappointing to have to wade through such problems.
To be sure, Champion by Choice has its pleasures. Luckman seems like a decent guy who has had a difficult life, and his writing has a folksy and straightforward charm to it. But where I was hoping for something focused on his powerlifting efforts and accomplishments, Luckman chose to write a broader history of his entire life. I do not begrudge him the decision to write the book he wanted. But I also cannot recommend Champion by Choice to an audience primarily interested in his powerlifting endeavors.