Buy The Book: The Race To The Future by Kassia St. Clair – Story of the First Peking to Paris In 1907

Buy The Book: The Race To The Future by Kassia St. Clair – Story of the First Peking to Paris In 1907

In my own life as a gearhead, I have had a perspective change on my historical interests over time. For example, for many years I really never had even the most passing interest in early automotive history, especially that of the dawn of the 20th century. As I’ve gotten older however, this has dramatically changed. As much history as has been shared, written, rewritten, regurgitated, and simply retreaded about the automotive industry in the 1950s and 60s, early automotive history has gained an appeal all its own with me. I mention all of this because it sets the stage for the enthusiasm with which I approached the new book, “The Race to The Future,” by Kassia St Clair. The sub-title reads, “8,000 miles to Paris – the adventure that accelerated the 20th century.”

This is a wonderful book that covers not just the insane stories of a handful of brave, wealthy, and crooked souls who were attempting to do something that sounds impossible today, let along 117 years ago. Drive from Peking, China to Paris, France in the rudimentary and underpowered automobiles of the era. St Clair does a masterful job of not simply sharing the diaries of the competitors and news reporting of the time but taking us into the history, both ancient and current to 1907, of the areas that the intrepid travelers were passing through. Sometimes with the throttle wide open, but most of the time with their rickety cars creeping along, battling mud, a complete lack of any roads, and navigational challenges.

It sounds crazy to say that this contest was a massive initiative of national pride for France itself which was the epicenter of automotive engineering, technology, and advancements during this Wild West period of the car. Of course as history has shown us in so many ways, hubris and national pride can often find their foil in the places they least expect them.

If you are simply only interested in the cars, there’s plenty here for you, but it would be shameful to miss the intensive research and work that St. Clair did to provide the societal, cultural, and political climates that these racers slogged and bogged their way through. Consider the tenuous state of the Russian Empire in 1907. Special government dispensation was needed for the racers to enter and proceed through that vast country. Then there were the logistical challenges. Fuel drops along the way, navigation by dead rekoning and the stars at night, mechanical breakdowns, and a whole lot more.

This was a trip with heroes and villains. This was a trip that took far, far longer than anyone expected, and this was a trip that Kassia St Clair did wonderful justice to with this book. If you love automotive history, this one will hit. If you love the history of the early 20th century and a myriad of cultures, this one will hit as well. If you simply love to be engrossed in a true story that at times seems crazier than fiction? Buy the book.

Two strong thumbs up here. Score this one for your library.

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