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Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend Hardcover – April 26, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“[EVEL] goes beyond the action-figure image, painting Knievel in all his contradictions....Now, in Montville’s capable hands, Knievel soars again in all his profane, self-deluded glory.” – Sports Illustrated

“In the late 1960s and early 1970s…the coolest man on earth was Evel Knievel….Leigh Montville brings him vividly back in an outlandishly entertaining new biography.” New York Post

“If Knievel lived ‘as if his pants were on fire,’ then his biographer writes like a house on fire…in describing the complex, contradictory stuntman’s battles with the demons that would ultimately destroy him, [Montville] pulls out all the stops.” – The Free Lance-Star 

“In Evel [Leigh Montville] writes in a florid high style, as if pulling a wheelie across every page. This can be smart, rowdy fun. Mr. Montville tacks the young Knievel to the wall, wonderfully.…He catches the way the wingspans of Knievel’s jacket collars were the ‘same as a good-size pterodactyl…Evel is never dull.” – New York Times

“If you were a young boy, like I was, in the summer of 1974, you talked about two things: Evel Knievel…and Hank Aaron…I hadn’t thought much about Evel Knievel in the intervening 35 years until I picked up Leigh Montville’s awesome new biography…you’ll love Montville’s rollicking good tale—told with an Irishman’s wink and a nod—of how Knievel blazed across the American consciousness in the late 60’s and early 70s….Montville nails it just right.” -- The Hollywood Reporter
“Montville fully imparts that sense of danger as well as Knievel’s mixture of singularly unpleasant personalities—thief, drunkard, brawler, extortionist, womanizer, snake-oil salesman, all-purpose con man—that somehow only enhance the legend. In the end, readers probably will not love or even like Knievel, but they’ll know the seamier side of the American dream that much better.” Booklist
"Bestselling author and veteran sports columnist Montville (The Mysterious Montague: A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery, 2008, etc.) points to the first biography of flamboyant risk-taker Robert Craig Knievel (1938–2007) as a cheaply commissioned, “cockeyed” screenplay (George Hamilton starred, angling for a career revival) based on “a collection of tall tales designed by the man himself to make people perk up and pay attention.” It was 1971, and while the film critically tanked, the publicity skyrocketed Knievel’s his popularity. Montville’s version ably describes his childhood raised by his grandparents in depression-era Butte, Mont., and then as a young, street-educated loner and general troublemaker. Greatly entertaining and anecdotal, the narrative covers the controversial aspects of the high flier’s history, tracking Knievel’s fearlessness as record-breaking smaller motorcycle tricks gave way to power-tripping death-wish jumps marked by countless broken bones, hospitalizations and even a coma—all observed by wife Linda and their three children. Whether cruising the talk-show circuit in a zebra-striped leisure suit, crashing onto the pavement at Caesar’s Palace or serving six months in jail for assaulting an event promoter, Knievel consistently treated his adoring (often aghast) fan base to reckless extravaganzas, increasingly perilous stunts and erratic, unbecoming behavior. Montville confidently narrates Knievel’s daredevilry with characteristic panache and presents his subject as a “one man ethical dilemma” who spent the bulk of his career testing the limits of his physical prowess with an unquenchable thirst for fame and fortune. A biography as sensationalist and superior as the daredevil himself." --Kirkus

--Previous Praise for Leigh Montville--

“[Ted Williams is] the complete package—a triumph, unreservedly the best biography of this larger-than-life American.”
Boston Globe
“It is unlikely that any reader could view Ted Williams as just a ballplayer ever again.”
New York Times Book Review

“[At the Altar of Speed is]…both a tribute and a candid look at [Dale] Earnhardt. [Montville] has succeeded wonderfully.”
San Antonio Express

“Montville’s solid reporting is augmented by a whimsical style that weaves Earnhardt’s life, racing career, business ventures, and impact on racing fans into a rich tapestry of racing. The book delivers.”
Times Daily

“[A] vivid, intimate account. Montville’s unique voice…makes old yarns seem new.”
Sports Illustrated

“Montville is a wonderful storyteller and Ruth’s story, from Baltimore street urchin to international celebrity is indisputably amazing…a fascinating tale, alternately happy and sad, and always artfully written.”
Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Three-time New York Times bestselling author LEIGH MONTVILLE is a former columnist at the Boston Globe and former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He is the author of The Mysterious Montague, The Big Bam, Ted Williams, At the Altar of Speed, Manute, and Why Not Us? He lives in Boston.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527453
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Anyone who lived through the heyday of Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, knows of the excitement this self-invented daredevil created on the world's stage. I remember that people loved him or hated him and some simply disregarded him. Besides the absurdity of his proposed acts... some of which he attempted and succeeded... some of which... he attempted and failed... and many of which... he talked and bragged about Ad Nauseam... and never attempted. The public at large knew he was bombastic... and not too high on "class"... from the rough and tumble mining town of Butte, Montana. The author, Leigh Montville does a masterful job of unveiling the real "Evel" Knievel... with more "warts and all" than the average citizen or fan may have known about during his heyday.

I found it tremendously educational as to the inherent lifestyle of the average families in the mining town of Butte in the 1800's and 1900's. The accepted outlook of a short life expectancy in unsafe and unhealthy mines... described in such detail... that at times the reader would be excused if he gasps for breath. The life outside the mines which included bar after bar after bar... and prostitute after prostitute after prostitute... and the daily conclusion that your husband or brother would not see another day as they went off to work. It was from this rough hewn world that Evel became what can only be described as a despicable individual... despite his "Captain America" uniform and his million dollar payments for the seemingly never ending list of toys in his image that became a staple of youth at the height of his popularity.

The author's in depth research paints a picture of a womanizing, alcoholic, lying, thieving, braggart. Part of Knievel's mantra was what a great wife he had in Linda, and how he loved her so much.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pugwash on January 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Evel Knievel was a man on everyone's lips in the 1970's. Along with other sports icons like Muhammud Ali, Hank Aaron, Joe Namath, and Wilt Chamberlain, Knievel evoked a strong image. A man soaring through the air. A man cheating death. A man who was put back together. A man who laughed at pain.

As with most of the stars of that era (Ali and Aaron being exceptions), the image did not really fit the reality. In Knievel's case, this was a story begging to be told. Knievel was so outrageous, and such an ugly human being, that although his self promotion can be admired, there is little redeeming about the man himself. Beyond naked ambition, and the drive which took him to the heights of celebrity, there is little to admire about him.

In sum, this is what makes his story so interesting. Although he made millions of dollars, he spent it so foolishly, and wastefully, that his canniness comes off as rubishnness. He had little integrity, was an amoral philanderer, a drunk, a cheat and a disloyal offensive lout. He offended almost everyone he came in contact with.

And yet, like the sociopaths of The Soprano's, he was capable of charm, at times. This is what won some people over. And yet, when his act grew tired, and his celebrity began to wane, his fan base decided he was not worth the bother, and his business associates did not care to be around him.

Knievel discovered the concept of "Branding" before it became popular, and he rode it to the top of the sports world.

For the most part, this is a well written book. The writer uses a seldom seen device that makes the writing seem a little choppy. The narration will be flowing, and he will all the sudden announce "A Story".
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark Daniels on June 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
After reading Leigh Montville's book on Ted Williams and now this one on Evel Knievel, I may have to say that he's the best sports biographer working today; he certainly chooses subjects who interest me, researches them well, and writes breezily but smartly, with no stone unturned. (I missed his bio on Babe Ruth, but I'll rectify that immediately.)

I instinctively knew at just 8-years-old that Evel Knievel was a very flawed man and not a good role model to have, but at the time I did not care. I was like Bobby Brady, who ignorantly chose criminal/killer Jesse James as his "hero" in an episode of "The Brady Bunch." The truth, though, is even worse than my child self knew: Evel Knievel was a VERY flawed man - a heavy drinker, a racist and anti-semite, a serial adulterer who made no effort at keeping his sexual conquests a secret from faithful wife Linda, and a distastefully arrogant and self-serving S.O.B. One of television's first great self-promoters, Knievel's failures as a person and as a professional daredevil (he missed half of his jumps) increased his fame as much as his successes did. People wanted to see how this jackass would screw-up next. His three most memorable jumps - Caesar's Palace, Snake River Canyon, and Wembley - were all unsuccessful, and yet at the same time VERY successful, at least in making Knievel more popular and therefore more wealthy. (And then there's the line of toys: with Evel Knievel action figures and cycles topping Christmas sales for five years, it was the toys which brought Knievel most of his money.)

Ironically, Knievel was bad at the job of motorcycle jumping. Today's jumpers, including Evel's son Robbie, easily succeed in making the same jumps which Knievel failed to make, or better and longer ones.
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