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Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race Paperback – June 27, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In February 1908, six teams entered an automobile race heading west from New York to Paris. It's difficult to overstate the audacity of this project: still crude, most autos died after about 10,000 miles; the prospect of nearly 22,000 miles of unpredictable weather and terrain over three continents with many unpaved roads, unbridged rivers and ravines, and craggy inclines probably sounded about as enjoyable, expensive, useful and likely to succeed as a trip to the North Pole. The now-forgotten auto manufacturers taking part (Züst, Protos) seem cribbed from Jules Verne, as does the venture. The public enthusiasm over the endeavor was as outsize as the project: 50,000 people witnessed the race's start, and the competitors—from Germany, Italy, France and the U.S.—were greeted as conquering heroes in city after city. Automotive historian Fenster keeps the focus of this sprawling subject matter as much on the constantly shifting locales and the fervid onlookers as on the hardy and weary travelers. The book has much in common with The Devil in the White City, in terms of the excitement the event generated, and although Fenster's work lacks the spark of Larson's, it's nevertheless a fine chronicle.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

On February 12, 1908, 17 men from four countries in six cars began a New York to Paris race--21,000 miles across three continents. They traveled over mountain ranges and drove through deserts and the Arctic cold. The race took them west across the U.S., then by ship to Japan. After driving across that country, they took another ship to Vladivostok, then drove across Siberia and eastern Europe, ending in Paris on July 30. And, of course, there were no gas stations along the way and no place to buy replacement parts. Fenster describes New York City and the crowd of 250,000 people who watched the start of the race as well as offering a brief history of the 17 drivers--Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, and Americans--and their cars. She recounts the race in detail; the weather (blizzards, blowing sand, mudholes, and flash floods) and tells what the drivers ate and wore. It was an arduous race to say the least; that's what makes the story so fascinating. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307339173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307339171
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,287,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Keith N. Harris on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
While the author had clearly done a great deal of research on the topic, I felt that the final presentation was rather hasty. In particular, the illustrations were small, of poor quality, without labels and did not identify the subjects.

The author's account of the last leg of the "race" from Vladivostock to Paris while acknowledging that little use had been made of local press seemed to make very little use of Scarfoglio's account or photographs.

The chapter dealing with the start in New York seemed unecessarily gossipy with too little analysis of the historical context of the race in the context of world transportation and the revolution that was taking place.

Nevertheless, there were major achievements to have captured the US newspaper accounts of the race and to have translated Hans Koeppen's book, but I am left with a thirst to know whether it will be published soon in English.

A good read but with a more detailed and better quality presentation of the photographs it would have made for a more collectible book.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps you've seen the 60s movie The Great Race, which was based on this real-life historical event. The "true story" is much more interesting than Blake Edwards' slapstick-filled concoction. Fenster, who has written extensively about the automobile industry and also written a history of ether (I hear that one's a gas), does a generally fine job in retelling the compelling story of the six international racers that traversed the United States, Siberia, and Europe for six months in 1908. The narrative draws extensively from documents of the day and the participants' own memoirs and recollections. My major complaint is that the book ends much too abruptly. After spending extended periods of time on the harrowing trek through America (which led to calls for an improved road system in the country) and the ordeal of Siberia, Fenster whizzes through the third stage of the race in a handful of pages. Granted, the European leg took place on good roads and thus did not lend itself to tales of near-disaster, but I would like to have heard more about the reactions of the cities along the way.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very well written book about a remarkable race with even more remarkable personalities! Somewhat exhausting to read not because of the writing style but because of what these drivers (and their cars!) had to endure just to take part in this incredible journey. If you are fascinated about the romance of the early days of automobiles then you'll love this book!
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book was suggested by Donald Davidson, historian of the Indianapolis 500. Having read about how the Indy 500 cars were built in the past by guys in garages, this book show the spirit of the men back then to advance the auto off the race track. I have seen a few of the places that were mentioned in the book so that made it even better for me.
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Format: Paperback
Sorry to say - when you write a book on a pivotal event like this, you have to go see whatever relic of the race is still existing. The Thomas Flyer still resides in Nevade, where Bill Harrah had it restored in the 60s. It takes about 5 minutes of googling to discover that the car had four cylinders, not six as stated in the book. Making that mistake causes my suspicious mind to start grinding - what other details are not right? As the others have stated, the progress speeds up towards the end of the book, covering 5 states in a page, while at the beginning it took 5 pages to cross a state.
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Format: Paperback
The book sets the race in the context of its time. It is well written. It clearly describes the difficulties encountered. Even though I knew the outcome of the race before reading the book, I couldn't put the book down because I kept wanting to know what happened next. I feel well-educated by this book and will seek out the author's other automotive writings.
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