Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book Review – American Daredevil

In “American Daredevil,” author Cathryn Prince quotes writer Joe David Brown who said, “If Richard Halliburton had not actually lived, no novelist or satirist would dare have invented him. Any fictional character who had the time, ability, or inclination to do all the exciting, grueling, and often ridiculous things he did simply would not be believable.” This was written in Sports Illustrated twenty-four years after Halliburton disappeared at sea in 1939 while trying to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

Halliburton was the first adventure travel writer. Travel writing was an unconventional if not unheard of career when he graduated from Princeton University in 1921. Halliburton really pioneered the field of adventure journalism. He documented adventures during the 1920s and 30s, like retracing the path of the Spanish Conquistador Cortex, climbing Mount Fuji, or swimming the Panama Canal. He was dashing. He was handsome. He wrote books and gave lectures. The media of the day covered his exploits. Travel writers like Charles Kuralt and Paul Theroux read his work when they were young. And although he is all but unknown today, he influenced a generation.

When Chicago Review Press offered me a copy of “American Daredevil” to review, I readily accepted because Cathryn Prince is not only a Facebook friend, but also the author of the excellent book “Death in the Baltic.” I have to admit my ignorance in that I had never heard of Richard Halliburton before reading about his life in this outstanding book. However, once I started reading about this guy I was hooked. The book is well written of course and reads at the same comfortable pace and author's voice as “Death in the Baltic.” The reader feels like they are on the adventures with Dick Halliburton, a man who “seized the day.” One reason that you also feel close to the action is that Cathryn spins the tale of both Halliburton’s professional persona as well as his private life. This book gets two thumbs up for making history interesting and providing a look at what was popular culture for our society in the first half of the twentieth century, before television and the Internet. I plan on sharing the life of Richard Halliburton with my US History class and adding “American Daredevil” to our classroom library.

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