Robert S. (Henderson, NV)
An Extrordinary Time, An Extrordinary Life
Author John Ross has written a compelling biography befitting of his heroic subject, Eddie Rickenbacker. Best known as the most celebrated World War I American flying ace, Rickenbacker was so much more, and Ross presents an engaging nuanced narrative of this most interesting and important life. As Ross relates, Rickenbacker was affected by and dramatically affected the times in which he lived. To that point Ross connects Rickenbacker's successes and achievements to the convergence of the opportunities created by the technological revolution in autos and flight during Eddie's early life, WW I and Eddie's constitution and character marked by drive, industriousness, leadership, inventiveness, courage and the indubitable will to survive.
Eddie's story begins in 1891 Columbus, Ohio. Born to Swiss immigrants recently arrived in America, Eddie's childhood was marked by abject poverty and paternal abuse. The death of Eddie's father when the child was thirteen was a transformative, and even liberating, event for Eddie. Eddie left school to support his family and worked in a succession of industrial jobs, mastering machines and building self-confidence. Still a teenager, Eddie earned managerial responsibility and distinguished himself for his leadership. Ross tracks Eddie's evolution as a craftsman and then engineer in Columbus' nascent auto manufacturing industry which led Eddie to the opportunity to race cars. Eddie became one of the premier early auto racers at the same time that he was succeeding as an automotive engineer and sales manager. Eddie's fascination with the new technology of speed led to an interest in planes ultimately leading Eddie to join the US Air Corps where he became the "ace of aces", registering more kills than any other American pilot, and the the commander of the most celebrated US air squadron. Between the wars Eddie was a pioneer in the early domestic civilian airline industry, serving as the first President of Eastern Airlines. Finally, during World War II Eddie took on special projects at the request of senior military leadership and the Roosevelt Administration, including rallying the air corps and public to the crisis at hand and even persuading General MacArthur to soften his public criticism of FDR's war strategy.
Ross describes Eddie's multi-faceted career as a series of steps, each building on and following from the one before it, and each creating the opportunities that Eddie seized to open the next chapter of his life.
Requisite for any worthwhile biography is informing the reader who the subject was, what the subject did and why the subject is worth reading about. Ross' book hits the mark. The author provides a full picture of Rickenbacker's life, his many challenges and his contributions. With effectively structured facts and analysis Ross persuades the reader that Rickenbacker holds an important, and possibly even unique, place in history and that the significance of his legacy will stand the test of time. Importantly, however, Ross achieves this end without glorifying his subject, and, in fact, on a number of points corrects errors in the historical record which Rickenbacker created. Ross explains that on occasion Rickenbacker would misstate certain facts of his life not for self-aggrandisement but rather from a "survivor's" need to define his story in the best possible light.
On a deeper level, though, Ross brings Rickenbacker to the reader as more than the sum of his trials and contributions. In this regard, Ross highlights the recurring themes in Eddie's life. As an example, Eddie was committed to the idea that the strength and survival of a group is predicated on unity- a dedication by each group member to each other member and a shared mutual respect. Ross first finds this precept in the Rickenbacker family's response to the father's death in the support that Eddie, his mother and his brother each provided to the other. Eddie's "family" when he raced was his pit crew, and when he flew it was the members of his squadron to whom he showed, and from whom he insisted upon, the same unity of purpose and dedication to survival as evidenced in his home.
A second theme that Ross finds is Eddie's businesslike approach to managing risk which Rickenbacker displays in his every endeavor. For instance, when Eddie raced he was the first driver to use wide tires for greater stability and safety. During the war Eddie would mitigate the danger of the combat missions by choreographing with his pilots the role of each and reviewing with the pilots the various scenarios that could play out and the most effective response to each. Eddie clearly was not deterred by inherently dangerous pursuits but, as Ross observes, Eddie was not a daredevil and, with thoughtful preparation he would minimize risk, thereby becoming a pioneer of modern risk analysis.
One additional strength of the book is the extensive historical context for Rickenbacker's life and achievements that Ross provides. Ross describes the early automotive manufacturing industry and its alternative technologies. Ross describes the early evolution of the sport of auto racing and takes the reader inside the early racing cars allowing the reader to feel the terror on the dangerous tracks. Ross details the evolution in the use of air power in World War I and, with his vivid descriptions, puts the reader inside the cockpit of a "virtual flying pyre" during a dogfight. The author introduces the reader to the early members of the car racing fraternity and to the European pioneers of aerial combat. This detail contributes to the reader's understanding and appreciation of Rickenbacker and the world in which he lived.
This reader's only criticism of the book is that certain of the contextual information is excessive. Early in the book there is unnecessary detail relating to automotive technology, and in the chapters covering Rickenbacker's service in World War I there is considerable detail relating to specific battles in the air campaign that would be more appropriate for a military history. This text does not contribute to the narrative and diffuses the book's focus.
That said, however, Enduring Courage is a very well written book about a compelling American life during a transformative era. Highly recommended!
Daniel A. (Naugatuck, CT)
This is one fascinating biography that was riveting and a page-turner. It is told in three parts: The most decorated WWI American fighter ace, Indy 500 race car winner in the early 1900's, and Eastern Airlines founder.
I highly recommend this book to lovers of good biographies, I think you will be pleased. 5 stars
Jane N. (Little Egg Harbor, NJ)
This is with a doubt one of the easiest books that I have ever read. Ross knows his subject very well and is shines through! The narrative flows and is never dull or flat. I learned a lot about Eddie Rickenbacker in a most enjoyable way. For instance, I did not know that before he became an Ace pilot, he was superstar on the early auto racing circuit. Ross brings American Life in the early 20th century to life in a way that informs without lecturing. My only complaint is that there was not enough photos included in the ARC, I hope that he corrects this, because those of early cars, race cars and airplanes are priceless. I found myself stopping time after time to look up what these things looked like! Overall a most enjoyable read, I recommend this to book clubs as well as history buffs!
Editor's Note: Jane was reading an advanced reader's edition of the book, produced some months ahead of the final book. Such copies very rarely have the finishing touches that the final book will do - including photos, maps, indexes or even a jacket cover.
Sara F. (Riverbank, CA)
Good Story Well Written
I have a memory of, as a child in the early 50's, going with my family to our local airport because Eddie Rickenbacker was coming to town on Eastern Airlines business and we might get to see him. Well, we did see him stepping down from the plane. He did not make remarks for the crowd as we had hoped but we got to see a true hero for that is what he was to my parents. In this biography I learned in stunning detail why my parents and millions of others revered this man. In well sourced, fast paced style we are told of Eddie's assuming the role of man of the house at age 14, his death-defying racing of primitive automobiles, his becoming ace of aces in the WW 1 air war and his survival decades later during another war being ditched in the Pacific. If you like history dished up as entertainment and appreciate life lessons in a true story, read this book.
Kathleen B. (Las Vegas, NV)
Eddie Rickenbacker, I knew was an Ace pilot in WWI but that was it. I so enjoyed finding out what an exciting life he led and how varied it was. He is an awe inspiring man and the title of the book including the dawn of the age of speed was so appropriate to his life. He was right there at the forefront mastering the two developing technologies. The clear writing and face pace of this book was a joy to read. I highly recommend it. I think any history buff would love this book, along with book clubs that enjoy memoirs and biographies.
Linda H. (Glasgow, KY)
Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed
We need more genuine heroes like Eddie Rickenbacker. Author John Ross offers a thoroughly researched from primary sources, engaging, well written biography about this memorable 20th century WWI ace pilot and aviation pioneer. Rickenbacker had a hard-scrabble rough childhood; left school at age 14 to support his mother and older brother to become an intuitive, gifted auto mechanic and one of America's earliest race car drivers present for the first Indy 500 at the Brickyard. Facing enormous odds this number one American Ace pilot shot down 26 German planes in heated dogfights during WWI despite permanent vision impairment, fragile, flammable kite-like aircraft flown throughout the war without a parachute. His leadership skills served him well as President of Eastern Airlines. Eddie Rickenbacker could have been the real-life prototype for Indiana Jones. Enduring Courage lauds the legendary hero and the man whose own autobiography and memoir, though excellent, glossed over many of the hardships and challenges he had overcome.
Rosemary T. (San Antonio, TX)
Enduring Courage by John Ross
A great glimpse into the character of men who helped build the auto and aviation industry into what it is today. Eddie Rickenbacker and this contemporaries pushed beyond the limit whether in racing or flying. John Ross did an incredible job of relating historical facts while still bringing to life the story of Rickenbacker, a man many have heard of but few actually knew. I don't usually read a lot of books on history, but found this book compelling.