Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed
At the turn of the last century, America found itself in the middle of a vast technological change. The automobile became a viable method of transportation, and advanced from a basic horseless carriage to a quick machine; the Wright Brothers proved that man could fly from the dunes of Kitty Hawk. These two emerging technologies had one thing in common: they both typified a new quest for humans to achieve speed, at any cost. At the center of the early development of both of these technologies was a daring, self-made man from Columbus, Ohio --- Eddie Rickenbacker.
His name is one of the most famous in early aviation, in the league of the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. His flying ace exploits during World War I made him a living legend in America. Before the war, he was one of the pioneers in automotive racing, competing in four of the earliest Indianapolis 500 races. A self-taught man, he had only a seventh-grade education before leaving school to support his family after the death of his father. Fascinated by machines, he would take a correspondence course in engineering. He had no further formal education, and yet he would find himself outsmarting Ivy League graduates in the 94th Aero Squadron.
"ENDURING COURAGE is a biography but reads more like a well-plotted novel. Rickenbacker’s exploits are larger than life, and the breadth of his life experiences are hard to grasp. Yet Ross has made them manageable and conveyed the true magnitude of his life expertly."
This quintessentially American story is told by John F. Ross in ENDURING COURAGE, a page-turning biography of Rickenbacker. Ross has crafted an enthralling account that gives full due to Rickenbacker’s status as a folk hero. A larger-than-life character, Ross is able to take Rickenbacker’s personality and give his readers strong insight into the rationale behind it. Born to Swiss-German immigrants as “Edward Rickenbacher,” his patriotic quest to take his love for aviation to the Western Front was held back both by his lack of formal education and his Teutonic name. Ross details his quest to overcome both of these obstacles, giving a treatment that analyzes Rickenbacker’s back story to explain how his life experience helped him cope with each and every challenge.
Ross gives fair treatment to each phase of Rickenbacker’s life: his early years, his auto racing period, his famous World War I flying ace years, and his post-war years as head of Eastern Air Lines and his stranding at sea after the crash of one of their planes. Rickenbacker’s life was lived so that each of these phases was completely closed as he moved on to the next, and each section of the book could be read as a stand-alone story. His research is impeccable, giving weight to the riveting tale. He grips the reader emotionally as well, giving drama to the numerous deadly crashes that typified early automotive racing, where Rickenbacker would see many friends flung into the air from burning cars. As the men of the 94th Aero Squadron are picked off by inexperience and German aces, Ross considers the personal impact each lost flier has on Rickenbacker and his fellow airmen. After the crash of Eastern Flight 21, the raw quest to survive adrift at sea is made painfully clear.
ENDURING COURAGE is a biography but reads more like a well-plotted novel. Rickenbacker’s exploits are larger than life, and the breadth of his life experiences are hard to grasp. Yet Ross has made them manageable and conveyed the true magnitude of his life expertly. This is a book that takes one of America’s loftiest folk heroes and makes him human.
Reviewed by Greg Fitzgerald on May 16, 2014