When explosions rocked the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, three people were killed and 260 injured, among them Jeff Bauman. Standing with friends to cheer on his girlfriend, who was running in the race, Bauman saw a man whose appearance and demeanor didn’t fit the crowd leave a backpack and walk away. Bauman was about to suggest to his friends that they move farther up the street when the pack exploded, taking both his legs with it. Stronger is Bauman’s account of his injury and recovery, and a tribute to working-class Boston resilience.

Bauman, with co-author Bret Witter, describes growing up among hard-working, hard-partying relatives and struggling to find his own path. Unable to afford college, he was cooking rotisserie chickens at Costco when the bombing occurred (a co-worker convinced him to keep his employee health insurance, which turned out to be a financial lifesaver). He’s apprehensive at being called a hero despite providing a description credited with helping to identify bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and feels pressured to make appearances at multiple charity events, even though the travel saps energy needed for his own recovery.

Bauman describes feeling no hatred toward the Tsarnaev brothers, just sorrow that they chose to hurt strangers out of a sense of their own futility. Carlos Arredondo, the man who saved Bauman’s life (pictured in a famous AP photo in which he’s running next to Bauman in a wheelchair) had his own life changed by stepping up in a moment of crisis. His personal story is heartbreaking, but his friendship with Bauman seems to offer a glimmer of hope.

Bauman’s frank discussion of the long path to recovery, seeded with doubt, setbacks and small victories, makes Stronger both informative and inspiring.

 

Heather Seggel reads too much and writes all about it in Northern California.

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