by John Reynolds ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 20, 1997
An uncritical biography of one of France's premier automakers, from a British journalist who takes a far greater interest in machines than in men or women. Drawing on archival and secondary sources, Reynolds offers a cursory rundown on his subject's life and times. The son of a Jewish diamond merchant who had moved to Paris from Amsterdam, Citroâ€°n graduated from the prestigious (product)cole Polytechnique in 1900 at the age of 22. Having fulfilled his military service, young Andrâ€š began manufacturing gearwheels, a high-tech enterprise in which he fared well. After WW I (during which he established and ran an important munitions factory for the government), Citroen built the first of many motor cars bearing his name. A technocrat rather than a practical engineer in the mold of his acquaintance Henry Ford, he was at least as concerned with developing mass consumer markets and volume-production techniques as with advancing the state of the automotive art. His eponymous company nonetheless created half-track vehicles that proved their mettle on showcase expeditions through Africa, Antarctica, Central Asia, and other exacting venues. It also rolled out the Traction Avant, a breakthrough design notable for such forward-looking features as an automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and hydraulic brakes. Although the firm and its founder appeared to prosper during the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression took a severe toll. Creditors (led by Michelin) gained control of Automobiles Citroen in 1935, the same year its erstwhile patron died of stomach cancer. While an English-language account of Citroâ€°n's accomplishments and failures is long overdue, freelance automotive journalist Reynolds misses his opportunity. Among other shortcomings, the tech-talk narrative devotes so little attention to matters of business and character that the company's precipitous fall from financial grace will come as a real shock to readers unfamiliar with the bon vivant proprietor's willingness to run immense risks. Flat and unrevealing.
Pub Date: Jan. 20, 1997
Page Count: 256
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996
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