RICKENBACKER'S LUCK: An American Life by Finis Farr


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Eddie Rickenbacker (1890-1973) is one of the last to be canonized by the venerable Childhood of Famous Americans series: this is a full-length, 350-page tribute chiefly based on the airman's personal papers and the 8,000-page ""master script"" of his 1967 autobiography. So we have once again the poor but wholesome Columbus, Ohio, boyhood; the early success selling and racing cars (""the experts agreed there was no more daring driver in the game""); the quick WW I enlistment, the fight for a flying assignment (""All he asked was the chance to risk his life. . .""); the 26 ""kills"" that made ""Captain Eddie"" America's Ace of Aces; the hero's tour of the lecture circuit (after some coaching--in the book's one amusing passage--from crony Damon Runyon); the struggle ""to establish himself as a leading citizen,"" not just a passing fancy, via the Rickenbacker, ""The Car Worthy of the Name""; the 1934 hook-up with Eastern Airlines, which he'd run until his retirement in '63. Plus: America-First isolationism, WW II consulting assignments, survival of two debilitating air crashes, conservative spokesmanship. Farr gives a daily-diary account of the Atlanta crash that crippled but didn't daunt Rick and his 24 days lost and feared dead in the Pacific; but he slights just what Rickenbacker skimmed over in his own accounting--his (clouded) operation of Eastern and his (ditto) political activities. He acknowledges, uncomfortably, that Rickenbacker held no brief for blacks and hedges about Rickenbacker's alleged ""low opinion of Jews."" It's not that, for Farr, Rickenbacker can do no wrong; mostly, he's on the same wavelength--except when, in a rare dissent, he sympathizes with the war-workers who resented Rickenbacker's opposition to time-and-a-half pay for them and a ceiling on executive salaries. He adds little altogether to Rickenbacker's self-portrait but a scattering of outlandish literary references (""Like Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Rudyard Kipling,"" Rickenbacker had an early taste for motoring) and some hints that all was not as it seemed to his hero. Recourse to the files of, say, Fortune magazine would have answered some of those open questions.

Pub Date: June 11th, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin