Book review: Enduring Courage, by John F. Ross

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:17pm

Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed

by John F. Ross

St Martin's Press

4 stars

Ed Timms

Eddie Rickenbacker, an ace pilot in the first world war, was a pioneering race car driver who pursued faster speeds and helped develop new technologies. He also survived the "world's most dangerous sport" while many others died.

After the US entered the first world war, aviation, still in its infancy, attracted Rickenbacker. Flying was a hazardous occupation even before pilots began spraying each other with machine guns. But Rickenbacker excelled and became America's top fighter ace.

Enduring Courage tells the remarkable story of Rickenbacker's life during an exhilarating and perilous time when inventors and daredevils - sometimes one and the same - made advances that changed the world. It also is the story of a man who was driven to overcome the shadow of his past - and at times embellished it.

Rickenbacker was the son of impoverished Swiss immigrants. When his abusive father died in a fight, the 13-year-old went to work instead of school on the morning after the funeral. He was poorly educated but mechanically gifted, and soon found an outlet for his talents in the burgeoning automobile industry. That led to his successful career as a race car driver.

As the first world war loomed, Rickenbacker faced prejudice because of his German-sounding name. He entered the army and became a driver for top brass. Those connections - and force of will - helped him become an officer and a pilot, even though he was technically too old and had impaired vision in his right eye. He ultimately took over command of his squadron while racking up aerial victories, finishing the war credited with 26 kills and the distinction of being America's top ace.

Biographer John Ross compresses a significant portion of Rickenbacker's life - before, during and after the second world war - into a few short chapters. But he reacquaints the public with the war hero, faults and all. And the book is a riveting account of the dawn of the age of speed.