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

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    Major problems with Todd Balf's book

    Todd Balf's book has a lot of errors in it, and some things simply appear to be made up. Here are a few quick samples from just a few pages


    Page 205. Re Taylor's 1902 trip from San Francisco to Sydney. Balf wrote that Taylor. '... had 15,000 nautical miles to wonder if he'd be welcomed or chased away.'
    The great circle distance from San Francisco to Sydney is just under 6,500 nautical miles, not 15,000.


    Page 208. 'In McIntosh Taylor would eventually see an awful lot of Billy Brady-the orphan upbringing, the winning smile ...'
    McIntosh was not an orphan. Though his father died when he was only four, his mother lived another 51 years.

    Page 208. He refers to the 'boiling Tasmanian sea'.
    There is no Tasmanian sea. There is a Tasman Sea, commonly referred to by Australians and New Zealanders as 'the Tasman', but not the Tasmanian sea. That would be like an American referring to the Pacifican Ocean.

    Page 209. He refers to the New South Wales Baptist newspaper as having devoted 'no less than five column inches' to an interview with Taylor.
    Not true. It was five columns.

    Page 211. He tells of Taylor's second race, held in Sydney, by quoting a writer describing Taylor's machine 'moving as Victorians have never seen a bicycle traveling before.'
    Not true. That quote was actually from several weeks later, when a writer was describing Taylor's win in a mile scratch race in Melbourne, Victoria. And as a direct quote, it should have spelled 'travelling' as it was printed in Australia.

    Page 214. Referring to the promoter Hugh McIntosh, and the period between the 1903 and 1904 Australian tours, he writes: 'On the heels of his immense success with the Taylor tour he was now introducing himself as Hugh "Huge Deal" Macintosh.'
    Not true. The moniker "Huge Deal" was not acquired by McIntosh until 1908, during the lead up to the Johnson-Burns boxing match.

    Page 227. Referring to the Johnson-Burns fight, held on December 26th, 1908, he said of McIntosh, 'He'd coordinate the timing adroitly, making sure the bout coincided with the arrival of a ready-made audience, the thousands of U.S. sailors who pull into Sydney Harbour with the Great White Fleet days before the title fight.'
    Not true. The Great White Fleet, in Sydney from August 20-27, 1908, left four months before the fight.

    Page 236. Balf states that Taylor '... hopped aboard the all-night Central Pacific for the 500- mile passage to Adelaide. Sometime in the early morning he passed within only a few miles of Peter Jackson's hometown of Sydney.'
    . There has never been a Central Pacific in Australia.
    . The distance from Melbourne to Adelaide is 450 miles.
    . The train does not pass within a few miles of Sydney. Australians know better. For Americans, it would be the mileage and relative directional equivalent of taking an overnight train directly southwest from Atlanta to New Orleans, but somehow passing within a few miles of Pitts

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2008

    Interesting story, athlete, and time in America

    A good, but not great story of an unlikely black athlete, excelling in an unlikely sport, bicycle racing, in an unlikely time the 1890's and earley 1900's. It's amazing to think that this sport of 'speed' captured the imagination of Americans, and the athletes had celebrity status, and for the time, made big money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2008

    A reviewer

    As an editor, Mr. Balf should've known better than to break the first rule of story telling: STICK TO THE STORY!!! I was extremely frustrated and disappointed by Mr. Balf's juxtaposition of modern day sports in a story that took place at the turn of the 'last' century. I didn't need the constant reminders that Taylor and Munger were like the Michael Jordans and Lance Armstrongs paticipating in the NASCAR events of their time. For me, these distractions were akin to hearing a cell phone ring in the middle of a movie theater. The history, people, and events were rich enough to stand on their own and this book would've been so much better without them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    Great book on early cycling

    I really enjoyed this book. Major Taylor was the first black sports superstar and he became one in the 1890s. He was admired by his contemporaries like Jack Johnson (first black heavyweight boxing champ). Unlike the other reviewer who apparently just wanted to read a ride report of one of Major's come from behind victories, I liked learning about the other great cyclists of the era, as well as the trainers and promoters. I was amazed at how modern Major's training regimen was, and at how fast he could ride the bike (not far off today's records). It was also interesting to learn that cycling was perhaps the biggest sport in America for a decade, with 100,000 people seeing a race in New York, for example. Of course, he was riding at a time of unbelievable racism, a time when hundreds of African Americans were being lynched in the South. Painstakingly researched, the author was able to give the reader a glimpse of life 100+ years ago, and was even able to interview Major's daughter Sydney, who died in 2005 at the age of 101. Fantastic book of American history and early cycling lore.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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