A fresh, frisky, and funny bio cum industrial history featuring the stereotypical monomaniacal inventor who ignores public opinion and the disdain of family and friends and lives long enough to enjoy seeing them all dine on substantial portions of crow.
Slack (Blue Fairways, 1999) points out several times that Charles Goodyear (1800–60) died before the birth of the tire and rubber company that still bears his name; a lovely concluding sentence notes how much the inventor would have enjoyed riding in a blimp bearing his name over a football stadium, watching thousands of fans (all wearing rubber-soled shoes) cheering teams bashing each other for the possession of a ball made in part of vulcanized rubber. Goodyear’s story is often about bashings of various sorts. Family, friends, creditors, and health all came second to his obsession with finding a way to prevent rubber from melting in heat and freezing in cold. Goodyear resided in debtors’ prison on numerous occasions, including a stint in Paris, where awards for his rubber products at the World’s Fair were delivered to him in his cell. The inventor also had a number of odious antagonists and a wide array of unprincipled rivals who left no ethic unsullied in their attempts to steal his process (later dubbed “vulcanization” by another) and to profit from his years of experimentation, frustration, and failure. In one spectacular trial, the Goodyear forces, led by chief attorney Daniel Webster in his final courtroom appearance, defeated Horace Day, an unsavory competitor who harassed Goodyear throughout his life—and beyond. Freelance journalist Slack keeps the narrative humming along, effortlessly tossing off clever lines yet keeping in the foreground at all times the astonishing devotion and accomplishments of the man whose discoveries made possible balloons, tires, rubber bands, and blimps. Goodyear himself never realized more than a modest income from his work and died deeply in debt.
Brisk, bouncy, elastic, and exciting.