Strongmen | History | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Strongmen

Larger than life, for ill and good

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Barbara Kreiger teaches English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. She has been fascinated by King Herod, ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus' birth, since she began researching a book about the Dead Sea more than 25 years ago. So when she read in 2007 about the probable discovery of Herod's tomb, her passport was at the ready. Kreiger flew to Tel Aviv and soon met up with archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who guided her through the site as well as through the thinking that led him to his sensational find; so began the reporting that would become this month's cover story, "Finding Herod's Tomb."

"This is a classic needle-in-a-haystack scenario," Kreiger says of Netzer's 35-year search for the murderous ruler's final resting place. "Here in front of you is an enormous mountain, an enormous haystack, and how do you find the needle?" Answer: enthusiasm and perseverance. "Watching Netzer work alert and excited—watching this older man walking as though his feet have memorized the site—is inspiring. I'm continually struck by his constant delight in his work. His eyes light up as he's describing something, even though to him it may be old hat. He invests himself in such a way that makes it come alive."

Jonathan Black is a former managing editor of Playboy and former executive editor of GQ who teaches writing at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. His interest in the history of fitness and "how we have become so obsessed with our bodies" led him—it would seem inevitably—to bodybuilder Charles Atlas and his "Dynamic-Tension" program, which took off during the Depression, helping generations of 97-pound weaklings deal with bullies at the beach. Atlas, Black says, "came from a time when we were all a lot more innocent, but also a time when people were feeling down about the future of the world, the country and themselves. He gave them a reason to think, well, you can at least do something about yourself. It was probably why his stuff caught on as much as it did back then, but it resonates today as well." Atlas achieved a kind of iconic status and personified the idea that one can start with nothing and end up rich and revered. Says Black: "That just speaks so much to the American dream and the kind of optimism that's run through our country since its founding. He's an unsung pioneer of the self-help movement." Black's story, "Muscle Man."

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus