Bascomb (Hunting Eichmann) offers an astonishing account of a singular victory at the 1938 Pau Grand Prix in Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France, executed by an unlikely team of challengers over Adolf Hitler's dominating Silver Arrows during the heyday of international automobile racing. It begins with socialite Dame Lucy Schell, who broke with convention to become a competitive Monte Carlo Rally contestant, subsequently forming her own Grand Prix team—the first and only woman to do so—then financing a brand-new racer. Selecting the financially strapped auto manufacturer Delahaye to build her a car, Schell then chose René Dreyfus as its pilot. The author describes how a near-fatal accident early in Dreyfus's career damaged his confidence as a driver, and how, as a Jew, he found himself excluded from competing with teams in a burgeoning fascist Europe. Among Bascomb's central themes is Dreyfus's finding a personal reason for reentering a sport he loved but had reservations about. The epilog traces the multifaceted postwar careers of various racers, especially that of Dreyfus, who went on to become a celebrated Manhattan restaurateur.
VERDICT Highly recommended for historians and aficionados of pre-World War II motorsport competition and its larger-than-life contestants.—John Carver Edwards, formerly with Univ. of Georgia Libs.
Auto racing takes on the von Clausewitz-ian guise of war by other means.
Early on in his reign, Hitler decided that it would be a key point of national pride to win the Grand Prix, with the Nazi propaganda machine obliging by developing the slogan, "a Mercedes-Benz victory is a German victory." Hitler's regime cultivated two drivers in particular, Bernd Rosemeyer and Rudi Caracciola, showering them with favors. France would have none of it, fielding a car, the Delahaye 145, that had an unlikely source, for the small firm that built it specialized in heavy trucks rather than fast cars. It had an unlikely patron, too: an American woman who loved to race and who selected as her driver a young man, René Dreyfus, who had been excluded from many races "because of his Jewish heritage." When he was allowed to race, he soared. Bascomb (The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War, 2018, etc.) recounts an early race in which Dreyfus piloted a fresh-from-the-factory Maserati, his pit crew none other than the car's namesake. Those early cars were dangerous: In a race from Paris to Madrid, more than a dozen drivers and onlookers were killed, and "there were too many injured to determine a casualty count with any accuracy." Bascomb writes vigorously of the race at the heart of the book, with heart-pounding set pieces: "In the twelfth lap, Rudi crept up to René's side, and the two almost locked together as they zigzagged around the course, neck and neck, neither giving way to the other." René won, and Hitler was furious. René, now in the army, was sent to the Indy 500 to represent France in 1940 but was stranded in America when Germany invaded his homeland. One of the first acts of the invaders was to sweep up every bit of archival material related to his victory, hoping to rewrite the past.
A luminous book of sports history that explores a forgotten corner of the history of the Third Reich as well.
The story of the speed revolution is long and complicated, but many of its parts are amenable to heroic narration . . . money is spent and lives are lost . . . champions rise and barriers fall . . . Grandeur and grandiosity abound. It makes for the kind of history movie producers love. Neal Bascomb’s new book, Faster . . . is this kind of history . . . Like many of the cars that race through it, Faster . . . keeps a brisk pace . . . Fresh, and told in vivid detail . . . [Bascomb] describes the twists and turns of the 1930s Grand Prix races as if he’d driven the courses himself.”—New York Times Book Review “[A] well-researched account of the 1938 Grand Prix in Pau, France . . . Excellent . . . [Bascomb] moves with the aplomb of an F1 driver who starts in the middle of the pack and works his way up, car by car, to take the lead . . . Exciting, fast-moving prose.”—Wall Street Journal “Bascomb’s account of the improbable victory of René Dreyfus over Nazi Germany’s elite racing team has speed, depth, and poetry. Race cars . . . Nazis . . . Monaco . . . a brash heiress and taciturn underdog . . . an epic showdown in the Pyrénées. It’s hard not to fall in love with Faster, Neal Bascomb’s brisk new portrait of European auto racing on the eve of World War II . . . The season’s most exhilarating and substantive beach read . . . It’s precision-engineered for Hollywood . . . There is alchemy at work in a piece of writing that approximates the rhythms of racing. At pivotal moments, the sentences fire in escalating, compact bursts—each stalking the next like the cars crowding each other on the winding city-streets of an old-style Grand Prix . . . Bascomb’s two great strengths as a nonfiction writer are his ability to create immersive scenes and his adherence to Hemingway’s ‘show, don’t tell’ principle . . . Readers will certainly come away with an appreciation for Bascomb’s deft portraits of these dynamic personalities, and for his miraculous excavation of an entirely new story from the over-tilled soils of World War II nonfiction.” —National Review “The 1938 Pau Grand Prix has all the trappings of a blockbuster Hollywood film: cars, chaos, colorful characters, a competition between good and evil—in this case France and Nazi Germany. But until Neal Bascomb . . . decided to make the race the focus of his latest book, the tale remained little-known. Now, the story . . . has come roaring to life in truly cinematic fashion.” —Smithsonian “The cars had tyres with little grip, feeble brakes and no crash protection whatever. Hot oil would continuously spray over drivers, who raced in linen caps . . . excursions would often result in mutilation or immolation. Faster is the story of René Dreyfus, who flourished in this atrocious atmosphere . . . Bascomb writes with a confidence and elegance based on impressive research and experience in the field of adventures . . . There is not much glory in our world. But you will find it in Faster.”—Spectator “Bascomb has re-created Europe’s motorsport subculture of the 1930s, a mix of glamour, bitter rivalries and mortal danger, against the darkening clouds of fascism. A fine stylist, the author has sketched an ensemble of intriguing characters . . . he has mastered the language of propulsion and velocity . . . [Faster is] worth the ride.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch “This is the Seabiscuit of prewar Grand Prix racing . . . A quality read, meticulously detailed.” —Sports Car Market “Racing has always been a dangerous endeavor, but in the 1930s it was incredibly dangerous—and exciting. Bascomb manages to recapture that thrill and convey it, at the same time weaving an engaging narrative and riveting characters throughout.” —Automobile “If Hollywood wants to continue its love affair with motorsport movies (Ford versus Ferrari, The Art of Racing in the Rain), someone should immediately start turning Faster . . . into a screenplay . . . Faster has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster . . . Faster not only is the title of the book, but the way you’ll be reading as you go further into its pages . . . The book is so delightfully detailed you might wonder if Bascomb hadn’t been present to see the drama unfold.”—Classic Cars Journal “Faster is a full-throttle reminder of the power of heroes to inspire us in dark times. Neal Bascomb has brought to life a gripping, expertly researched tale of an unlikely band of dreamers who risked everything to challenge evil.”—Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times best-selling author of Lost in Shangri-La and 13 Hours “Sport, politics, and human passion collide in this sizzling ride of a book. Bringing the excitement of motor racing to life on a page is no easy task but Bascomb succeeds hugely. Rene Dreyfus’s victory over the Nazis is a victory for us all.”—A. J. Baime, New York Times best-sellingauthor of Go Like Hell and The Accidental President “Like one of the race cars Neal Bascomb so elegantly describes, Faster is a sleek hotrod of a narrative. Replete with fascinating characters, with a historic backdrop full of angst and menace, this is a David vs. Goliath story for the ages.”—Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times best-selling author of Mayflower and In the Hurricane’s Eye “An American heiress and outcast Jewish driver team up to defy Hitler: it could be a Tarantino movie, but it really happened. Neal Bascomb brilliantly unspools their story with all the thrills, surprises, and danger of prewar Grand Prix racing. A fascinating plunge into an era when daring drivers raced fast cars beneath gathering storm clouds, Faster is a tour de force, and deserves a place on everyone’s must-read list.”—Garth Stein, New York Times best-selling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain “Neal Bascomb’s spellbinding new book does for motorsports what Seabiscuit did for horse racing and Boys in the Boat did for rowing: with a race in every chapter, every turn of the page makes your heart beat a little—yes—faster.”—Sarah Rose, best-selling author of D-Day Girls “In Faster, we hear the rumble of cars and the rumors of war. Bascomb combines a wide-ranging history of racing—the tracks and the tricks, the storied rivalries and daredevil tactics that permeated a sport that killed many a driver—with the rise of the man responsible for the deaths of millions . . . Bascomb’s work [is] memorable on numerous levels.”—BookReporter “Popular historian Bascomb delivers an engaging narrative, filled in with generous profiles of the principal drivers, sponsors, and the fraught era in which they operated. Of special interest to racing fans and readers of World War II.”—Booklist “In this beautifully told book, each page adds to the last, right up to the climactic last chapter. Faster captures, in detail, the glory days of early racing and the drivers who faced down their dangers.”—Foreword Magazine “Auto racing takes on the von Clausewitz–ian guise of war . . . A luminous book of sports history that explores a forgotten corner of the history of the Third Reich.”—Kirkus Reviews “An exuberant chronicle . . . Bascomb packs the book with colorful details and expertly captures the thrill and terror of early-20th-century auto racing. This rousing popular history fires on all cylinders.”—Publishers Weekly “If you love a good tale told well, motor sports, [and] history . . . then you should enjoy Neal Bascomb’s latest book.”—Long Island Herald “Bascomb’s well-researched book is filled with fascinating characters, who look death in the eye as they chase the checkered flag. His story of the triumph of good over evil is one for the ages.” —Bennington Banner “If you are used to reading about this era in the form of dry statistics and detached racing reports, you will find this book invigorating . . . [It] has the sweep and flow of a novel. If you’ve ever been curious in the slightest about this grand era of motor racing, when cars served as surrogates for nations, we highly recommend you pick this one up.”—Hemmings Motor News “An astonishing account of a singular victory . . . Highly recommended for historians and aficionados of pre-World War II motorsport competition and its larger-than-life contestants.”—Library Journal “This is an important book . . . All these years after it took place, that the good guys (René Dreyfus, Lucy Schell and the Delahaye 145) bested the bad guy (Adolf Hitler and those doing his bidding, not to mention all the money he could throw at it), will become more widely known . . . A ripping good adventure story . . . As Bascomb’s storytelling skills are on display on every page of Faster, so too is his attention to meticulous research . . . Faster is, quite simply, a fast-moving, entertainingly good read about real people and real events.”—Society of Automotive Historians’Journal “Speed demons in need of a little zoom will want to find Faster by Neal Bascomb, a book about a race car driver who was the victim of racism; an automaker who was the victim of financial mayhem; and an heiress who dreamed of her youth. Add in a bit of history, Nazi Germany, and a fast-paced story and really: how can you resist?”—The Bookworm “The riveting story of how three talented underdogs came together to take on the Hitler-funded Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union Grand Prix teams . . . Faster is a beautifully written, well-researched and captivating book that you will truly enjoy.”—Pur Sang Magazine “Bascomb is an accomplished writer . . . Compelling . . . The prelude to World War II, of course, is the underlying theme, but like the Berlin Olympics in ’36, the epic struggle of the war is foreshadowed by the epic struggles on (and off) a racetrack.”—Texas Garage “Exhilarating . . . Bascomb has uncovered this important—and spellbinding—story.”—Brooklyn Digest “The sweeping story unfolds like a race, with the narratives of three central figures brought together in pursuit of one goal, and how that goal escalates and deepens page after page until the last heart-pounding lap.”—Motor Authority “[An] incredible true story . . . Bascomb puts Faster readers in the shoes and the mind of one of the greatest race car drivers motorsports has ever seen.”—Old Cars Weekly