Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed
John F. Ross
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2015, 416 pages
Book Review published on: April 19, 2019
Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed is a unique biography of ace pilot legend Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. In this book, John Ross delves deeply into Rickenbacker’s early years including his difficult upbringing in Columbus, Ohio, and logically places him into the world of wheels and checkered-flag evolution. One thing that makes this biography fascinating is the parallel narration of Rickenbacker’s early traits as a risk-taker side by side with revolutionary discoveries in aviation technology. Ross delights readers by bringing to light the effects of the then new internal combustion engine and how its applications sparked the imagination and ambitions for speed in young minds such as Rickenbacker’s, first on ground wheels and then on wings.
There is no doubt that Rickenbacker was brought up in a challenging household. His father was hardly a role model, preferring violence and bullying as ways to impose his will. But Ross highlights two pivotal events that changed Rickenbacker’s life: his father’s death and his first ride in a Model C Ford. When Rickenbacker’s father lost his life as a result of a violent street brawl (which could be argued as racially incited), young Rickenbacker was thrust into manhood. At the age of thirteen, he quit school to work in order to support his mother and siblings. Sadly, Ross shares that along those years, Rickenbacker would grow to manifest some of the same unsavory behavioral traits that his father had displayed.
Ross spends a considerable amount of time taking us into Rickenbacker’s fascination with the automobile. He richly illustrates the ecstasy with which Rickenbacker savored every moment of a car ride at an “astounding” 35 mph in a new era of automotive discoveries. Rickenbacker demonstrated exceptional mechanical abilities at age seventeen, opening a realm of possibilities in the new era of motorized discoveries for the future aviator. It was no surprise that Rickenbacker’s fascination with engines, speed, and adventure would take him to France at the onset of World War I and help him fulfill his ambitions for flight. He was more than willing to test limits while contributing to performance design, and the readers are drawn into watching his successes while witnessing the loss of his friends and mentors who succumbed to death while maneuvering these fragile airframes in aerial combat. It was the dawn of the age of speed, and taking risks with little to no fear was part of the membership that came with flying during World War I. Other than highlighting yet another near death experience when Rickenbacker’s Eastern DC-3 crashed near Atlanta, Ross avoids delving deep into Rickenbacker’s later years and command of Eastern Air Lines.
Enduring Courage brings justice to its title by highlighting this “ace of aces” who cheated death so many times. Whether reading passages about Rickenbacker defying the limits of untested car designs, dogfighting over the skies of Europe, or spending twenty-four days in the Pacific after ditching his B-17, the reader walks away with a great appreciation for the grit of this Medal of Honor recipient.
Book Review written by: Hiram Morales, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas