From Publishers Weekly
According to Balf, at the turn of the century the invention of the bicycle democratized transport. But as Balf also points out, despite the bicycle's ability to break down society's social structure, it couldn't make the prejudiced world of segregation, lynching and Jim Crow disappear. This new biography chronicles the life of the unlikeliest of stars in the early years of cycling: Marshall Major Taylor. Taylor was an incomparable athlete, poet and celebrity, but he was also a black man living during a time when the scars of the Civil War and slavery were still fresh in the minds of Americans. Balf, who writes for Men's Journal
, does great work presenting the complex nature of Taylor's life, including his up-bringing in poverty in Indianapolis, the years he was treated as a son by a rich white family, the fans who both worshipped and vilified him and his close relationships with his white trainer and promoter. Much of the book revolves around Taylor's rivalry with the pugnacious, bigoted Floyd McFarland to be the fastest rider in the world, with their stirring final battle in Australia serving as the book's inspiring climax. Balf's prose is both evocative and informative, as can be seen in his description of the feeling one gets on one's first bike ride: the moment when doubt and fear release in a simple, fundamental expression of emotions. Despite all the injustices, injuries and obstacles he faced, Taylor never lost that feeling and that's what makes this a truly engaging narrative. Photos. (Mar.)
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"Balf revels in the bicycle’s bone-shaking evolution and the top-gun fraternity of daredevils who literally risked life and limb to race."
Todd Balf has given us an astonishing book about race and racing in Gilded Age America. This is literary sports writing at its finest. In the tradition of David Halberstam and Frank DeFord, Balf painst intimate portraits of young athletes at the top of their game- and takes us on an epic ride to a nearly forgotten world of sport."
–Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder
and Ghost Soldiers
"If a literary magician could somehow combine the longshot thrill of Seabiscuit
, the groundbreaking nobility of Jackie Robinson, and the dramatic flair of Babe Ruth, the result would be something close to this book. Major Taylor is perhaps the greatest American underdog story ever told; I couldn't put it down."
-- Daniel Coyle, author of Lance Armstrong's War
, Todd Balf has given us the true story of a fascinating, vanished sports world, and one of America's first, great black champions. It reads as fast and as beautifully as its heroes spin."
-- Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley