Tuesday, September 3, 2013

12 in 12 - August Review

I'm a couple days past due I know....but my week long golf trip cost me some anticipated reading time.  So I ended up finishing my August book tonight.

And it was a very interesting book to say the least.

I found this read to be equally frustrating and intriguing.  Head shaking and page flipping.  Satisfying and yet leaving me wanting more.

I can definitely say that out of the eight books that I have read for this year long project so far....it's the most unique of the lot.

It all began at work a couple months ago when we sat during lunch and watched a highlight film of some of Evel Knievel's infamous daredevil jumps.  Seeing that grainy footage from over 30 years ago shot me back to a time where he was salt flat cool.

I wondered at the time if there was a definitive documentary done on the guy.  To my surprise...no.  But there was a book.  And a pretty recent one at that.

August's book is about one of the most polarizing figures in American pop culture history.

Evel - The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel:
American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend
Leigh Montville
389 pages

In a nutshell....Evel Knievel was one-of-a-kind.  You could say he was an innovator.  You could also say he was a swindler.  You could say he inspired a generation of kids.  You could also say he was the epitome of a hypocrite.

Regardless of what you may think...Evel Knievel is a name synonymous with the 1970's and the wild, crazy living of the times.

A couple quick quotes from the book that stuck with me...

"Robert Craig Knievel was a one-man tidal wave when he came through more ordinary lives."

"There was a reason why toymakers always favored cartoon superheroes over real-life people: the cartoon characters never grew old, never lost their powers, never drank bourbon, never claimed to have slept with eight different women in a day, never whacked their former publicist with a baseball bat, never went to jail."

How's that for painting a picture?

I was amazed at just how crazy, irresponsible, rude, uncaring and just all around self-centered Evel Knievel was.  I was equally amazed at how much I felt sorry for the guy by the end of this book.

He played the hand he was dealt and in the end seemed to have a lot of regrets.  If I met this guy at the bar in his heyday...I'd probably be disgusted by his antics.  But what's odd is that I was completely embroiled in his story.  Faults and all.

Frankly, this guy has no redeeming qualities.  He swindled more people out of money than anyone else I've ever read about.  He cheated on his wife (how she ever stayed with him for over 35 years is beyond me) constantly.  He bet on anything and everything.  He had a God complex.  He commanded the attention of every room he stepped in.  And rules meant nothing to him.

So why do I care about this guy?

I'm at a loss.  Maybe it's because my memories of him prior to reading this book were of the iconic jumps he performed when I was a kid.  Maybe it was because I connect more with the wind-up toy than I do with the fatally flawed character in this book.

Maybe deep down (real deep), he is a good person.

Whatever it is, I found his story to be an interesting one.

This book's biggest struggle is the fact it was written in 2011 and the author never got to interview Evel himself.  All the info was taken from other sources and interviews conducted with friend, family and associates.  That said, it's a pretty complete account of his life in my opinion.

It's a very slow starter of a book.  The first 2-3 chapters don't hardly even mention Knievel.  It's all setting the scene.  His hometown of Butte, Montana back in the 30's and 40's.  Basically the life he was brought into and was raised in (a huge reason he became the person he did).

It picked up steam in the middle chapters and some of the stories are pretty amazing.  The stunts, the injuries, the flaws.

The last few chapters really reveal who Evel Knievel was.  Spending time in jail, his injuries catching up to him and his eventual death in 2007.  He entered the world quietly and exited with an equal whimper.

But the story in between was worth the read.  If you remember the name Evel Knievel, this would be a good read for you.

3 out of 5

Bonus:  Here's the iconic footage of his crash at Caesar's Palace.  Do you know who the cameraperson was on the closeup shot?  I was stunned to learn this (and am amazed the footage exists at all).

September's book...

note:  I'm choosing a quicker read this month because I am going to try to get through two books in September.  In addition to The Rebel League, I have been eyeing this story for a few months....and I can't wait any longer.

I have HUGE expectations for this book.  A couple people have told me it is outstanding.

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