The year is 1908, and three companies from three different countries have assembled teams to compete in a round-the-world race. The gimmick? The racers will be driving the newfangled horseless carriage. Blackwood details the adventures and misadventures of the German, Italian, and American teams as they race from New York to Paris. The racers cross some of the most hostile and unforgiving climates in the world, including Siberia, in an attempt to prove the greatness of their new machines and bolster the burgeoning nationalism that is spreading across the globe. Blackwood does an excellent job of detailing the many difficulties faced by the men running the race. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book, beyond the exciting pictures, is the final chapter describing the aftermath of the race. Blackwood connects the race to the rise of the automobile culture as well as the World Wars. This book is appropriate for upper elementary and above. Reviewer: Karolinde Young
A hundred years ago, the automobile was a noveltya toy for the rich and famous. Prior to Henry Ford's revolutionary assembly-line process, automobiles were essentially built-to-order, one at a time. European automakers eager to capture this young market devised racesemphasizing endurance over speedto prove the superiority of their products.
The New York Times and the Paris newspaper Le Matin sponsored the granddaddy of all such races, with a course that began in New York and ended in Paris (going the long way across the United States, Siberia and Europe). That race, which included entries from France, Italy, Germany, and a last-minute American car, was as much about the pluck, ingenuity, and determination of the crews as it was about mechanical dominance. Blackwood's engaging storytelling brings to life the men behind the wheel, from the Italian poet to the determined American mechanic. He is especially effective at illustrating transcontinental travel in an age before paved highways, routine snow removal or gas stations. Comparisons between the 1908 racecars and current automobile specs (e.g. 15 horse power engines versus 300 in a modern SUV) help to highlight the tremendous undertaking of the race. Black-and-white photographs of the participants, cars, events, and sights of the race enlarge this remarkable story. A short list of related websites, a bibliography, end notes, a map, and an index enhance the book's use for research, but there can be no doubt that students will embrace this thrilling narrative for their recreational reading as well. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
Children's Literature - Heather Christensen
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.
On February 12, 1908, a group of auto-industry pioneers and self-proclaimed madmen set off on an unthinkable journey-the first automobile race around the world. Six cars-including only one from the United States, the Thomas Flyer-left New York City for Alaska and drove straight into a blizzard toward Paris, France, the final destination. The race was followed worldwide via telegraph and newspaper for the next six months: They crossed rivers on ferry boats and rickety wooden bridges; dug foot-by-foot through snow drifts that threatened to bury them; ate and slept in lean-tos at the side of the railroad tracks they used when there were no paved roads; and waited for days for parts or fuel to arrive in villages that had never seen a motor vehicle. The obstacles and battles they fought were epic, as were the personalities of the racers and their cars. In the end, even what should have been a clear victory was muddled by the egotistical claims by some of the drivers. Blackwood successfully chronicles the Great Race just in time for its one-hundredth anniversary-to be celebrated by another race scheduled to depart New York for Paris on May 30, 2008 (http://www.greatrace.com). Antique car hobbyists will love this story for the history, and thrill-seekers will get a kick out of the heroism and arrogant antics of the participants. The chronological organization makes it easy for the reader to follow along and wonder at the stamina and will of these adventurers. Reviewer: Laura Lehner
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
Gr 5-9- Blackwood recounts this historic race, cosponsored by the
New York Times and the French newspaper Le Matin . When it began in February 1908, there were six official entries-three from France and one each from Germany, Italy, and the United States. Starting in Times Square, the route would take the crews across America, up across the Bering Strait into Siberia, and through Asia before entering Europe and finishing in Paris. The author nicely covers the background events leading up to the finale and goes into extensive detail on the men and the cars involved. Collectively, the planners and racers got so caught up in the excitement that they gave little thought to such practicalities as harsh winter weather, a lack of real roads, and the personality conflicts that were bound to crop up among those forced to spend long periods of time in close quarters. Blackwood's meticulous research is evident, and the abundant period photographs are a pleasure to study. The sheer number of people and cars, however, makes the progression of the race difficult to follow at times, and the author's attention to detail causes some sections of the book to drag. Many of the photographs were used courtesy of Frame 30 Productions, which produced a documentary on the race to commemorate its 100th-anniversary reenactment. History buffs will find much to enjoy in this account of one of the earliest and most ambitious automobile races.- Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
The automobile had only been around for two decades and was seen as no more than "an ingenious toy" when, in 1908, the French paper Le Matin and the New York Times co-sponsored a New York-to-Paris auto race. There had been previous races, but never one like this, which spanned the entire globe, and Blackwood's storytelling is in full gear, with the cars themselves the stars of the show. They had several gas tanks, got seven or eight miles per gallon, had up to 60 horsepower and achieved reckless speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour. Readers will share drivers' frustrations with snow, mud, robbers and constant mechanical problems. The volume ends with the observation that today the great race facing automakers is against time, to produce cars that use as little energy and cause as little pollution as possible. Lively writing, maps and abundant archival photographs enliven this volume, though too many pages of dense text are unrelieved by visuals. The solid bibliography, end notes and guide to websites will take interested readers further. (index) (Nonfiction. 10+)