Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World’s Fastest Human Being

Todd Balf, Author . Crown $24 (306p) ISBN 978-0-307-23658-6

According to Balf, at the turn of the century the invention of the bicycle “democratized transport.” But as Balf also points out, despite the bicycle’s ability to break down society’s social structure, it couldn’t make the prejudiced world of segregation, lynching and Jim Crow disappear. This new biography chronicles the life of the unlikeliest of stars in the early years of cycling: Marshall “Major” Taylor. Taylor was an incomparable athlete, poet and celebrity, but he was also a black man living during a time when the scars of the Civil War and slavery were still fresh in the minds of Americans. Balf, who writes for Men’s Journal , does great work presenting the complex nature of Taylor’s life, including his up-bringing in poverty in Indianapolis, the years he was treated as a son by a rich white family, the fans who both worshipped and vilified him and his close relationships with his white trainer and promoter. Much of the book revolves around Taylor’s rivalry with the pugnacious, bigoted Floyd McFarland to be the fastest rider in the world, with their stirring final battle in Australia serving as the book’s inspiring climax. Balf’s prose is both evocative and informative, as can be seen in his description of the feeling one gets on one’s first bike ride: the moment when doubt and fear release in a simple, fundamental expression of emotions. Despite all the injustices, injuries and obstacles he faced, Taylor never lost that feeling and that’s what makes this a truly engaging narrative. Photos. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 11/12/2007
Release date: 02/01/2008
Paperback - 306 pages - 978-0-307-23659-3
Open Ebook - 179 pages - 978-0-307-40976-8
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