From Publishers Weekly
Pyle, a sports agent and promoter, came up with the idea of a footrace (mockingly known as the Bunion Derby) from Los Angeles to New York that promised $48,500 in cash, including $25,000 to the first-place winner. For a $125 entry fee, male participants got the chance for a nice payday while subjecting themselves to harsh weather, primitive housing and Pyle's ego and shady business practices. They also had to run 3,500 miles over 84 days (the equivalent of 40 miles a day) long before comfortable running shoes and sophisticated sports nutrition. Williams, a contributor to Entrepreneur
magazine, has evocatively recreated a long-forgotten sports event, mixing colorful anecdotes from the race with vivid portraits of the runners. There's Brother John, a bearded zealot who raced in a sackcloth, and 20-year-old Andy Payne, a part-Cherokee Oklahoman who competed to pay off his family's farm and to win the attention of the girl he loved. What could have been one long injury report or a sappy piece of nostalgic nuttiness is a breezy, entertaining read that properly balances the runners' integrity with the comedy of errors that was Pyle's grand experiment and his life. Photos. (July)
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On March 4, 1928, 199 men set off from Los Angeles on foot. Their destination: New York City. It was the Bunion Derby, perhaps the most grueling contest in the golden age of endurance competitions, an era when dancing, flagpole sitting, eating, and even coffee drinking turned into tests of will. The race was the brainchild of huckster C. C. Pyle, who shares the focus of this fascinating account with some of the racers (especially young Andy Payne, who entered the derby in the name of true love). In a broader sense, though, author Williams tells the story of pre-Depression America, when the world seemed an exciting place, and when the horizon was bright. The race was an exhausting, punishing event (amazingly, more than 50 racers finished it), and Williams recounts the story with gusto, giving us a real sense of the physical and mental toll the competition took on its participants. Pyle comes off as a likable rogue, a classic Roaring Twenties, get-rich-quick kind of guy. The book is like a time capsuleand an extremely entertaining one at that. Pitt, David