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ZIG-ZAG-AND-SWIRL by Jr. Henry

ZIG-ZAG-AND-SWIRL

: Alfred W. Lawson's Quest for Greatness

By Jr. Henry

Pub Date: April 30th, 1991
ISBN: 0-87745-312-8
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

 All but forgotten today, Alfred Lawson (1869-1954)-master of hype, economic reformer, founder of the quasi-religious School of Lawsonomy, ``Magic Man of Baseball,'' ``Columbus of the Air''-was renowned during the first half of the century. This entertaining biography by Henry (Political Science/Mount Mercy College), despite lack of access to Lawson's papers, is a revealing portrait of ``a uniquely American,'' self-created man. Henry divides Lawson's life into three stages. First come his years as a relatively successful minor league pitcher and manager, 1888-1908 (he later worked as a promoter and organizer of a number of teams and leagues). Lawson's second career, in aviation (1908-1929), grew out of his love of and belief in flying as a cure for mankind's ills. His magazines, Fly and Aircraft (a term he claimed to have coined), were, as Henry notes, a popular mix of pseudoscience, real know-how, and Babbitt-style ``boosterism.'' Generally credited with conceiving the idea of commercial airliners, the Lawson Aircraft Corporation built a 16-passenger plane that Lawson flew on a 2,000-mile, perilous promotional tour in 1919. Though his plans-as usual- ended in financial disaster, Lawson actually had contracts with the US military and the postal service. The third stage began in the 1930's following the publication of his first reform treatises, with the development of the Direct Credits Society, a crusade to oust the financiers from capitalist society through a kind of socialistic-egalitarianism. His quest to perfect human nature, Lawsonomy, grew out of this half-baked utopianism. k Part ``new physics,'' part religion, Lawsonomy would lead to a ``new species'' watched over and led by ``one cosmic mastermind,'' ``God's eternal gift to man,'' Alfred Lawson. His controversial Des Moines University of Lawsonomy (later resurrected and still existing in Racine, Wisconsin) closed after his death; fewer than 300 followers survive today. The aptness of Henry's admonition ``to reject [Lawson's] claims of greatness,'' but not to ignore his remarkable life is borne out by this engrossing, pleasing slice of Americana. (Thirty-three b&w photographs and nine drawings.)