Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race

Julie M. Fenster, Author . Crown $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-609-61096-1

In February 1908, six teams entered an automobile race heading west from New York to Paris. It's difficult to overstate the audacity of this project: still crude, most autos died after about 10,000 miles; the prospect of nearly 22,000 miles of unpredictable weather and terrain over three continents with many unpaved roads, unbridged rivers and ravines, and craggy inclines probably sounded about as enjoyable, expensive, useful and likely to succeed as a trip to the North Pole. The now-forgotten auto manufacturers taking part (Züst, Protos) seem cribbed from Jules Verne, as does the venture. The public enthusiasm over the endeavor was as outsize as the project: 50,000 people witnessed the race's start, and the competitors—from Germany, Italy, France and the U.S.—were greeted as conquering heroes in city after city. Automotive historian Fenster keeps the focus of this sprawling subject matter as much on the constantly shifting locales and the fervid onlookers as on the hardy and weary travelers. The book has much in common with The Devil in the White City , in terms of the excitement the event generated, and although Fenster's work lacks the spark of Larson's, it's nevertheless a fine chronicle. Agent, Judith Ehrlich. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/02/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
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