Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Book Review - "Shunt - The Story of James Hunt", by Tom Rubython

Having received distinctly mixed feedback, I had delayed purchasing this book, but eventually relented and decided to judge it for myself.

The first thing to make clear is that this is a very lengthy book, and it cannot be accused of skimping on detail. The style of writing will certainly not be to everyone's taste, but it can still be quite a rewarding read, for several reasons.

It would seem that the author had access to sources not available or sought out by Hunt's previous biographers. This ensures that some stories and information in Rubython's may be reaching a wide, mainstream audience for the first time. Certainly, several gaps in my knowledge were filled, particularly on matters hitherto submerged beneath the rich tapestry which was Formula 1 in the 1970s.

The life of Hunt both before and after his Formula 1 racing career are covered in more depth than in previous similar publications, although at times perhaps the level of detail is excessive.

One of the most illuminating aspects of the book was its concentration on the financial and promotional elements of motor racing at that time, when sponsorship and television coverage were still in their infancy. It was fascinating to read how informal, almost amateurish, things were as recently as 1975. The one thing I could do without was the constant quoting of figures and monetary amounts!

My main criticism of the book is its apparent tendency towards hyperbole and even exaggeration of some events. The life of James Hunt was hardly mundane, and little sensationalism is needed to turn it into a compelling story.  Some fairly insignificant and unimportant incidents are overplayed in order to embellish parts of the tale, and the "all or nothing" mode of language employed is irritating at times.

Although casual readers will probably not notice, any F1 "anorak" will be surprised by the number of historical inaccuracies and errors contained in the text.  This did slightly mar my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

The author is not afraid to pass judgement on aspects of Formula 1, particularly the transition towards ground-effect, and its impact on the quality of the racing. Not everyone will agree with his interpretation of events, but to his credit, he does not attempt to sugar-coat the Grand Prix scene of the time, or indeed Hunt's role in it.

Perhaps also I could have done without the constant references to economic and political events of the times. I accept that this is sometimes desirable for the purposes of context, but for me it went a little too far in this instance.

Later in the book, efforts are to made to analyse Hunt's complex persona, and also to document his trials and tribulations following retirement from racing. Doubtless many readers will find this the most revealing, and indeed moving, part of the book.

In summary, I would say that this is a mixed bag. Plenty of information to be extracted, if one can see past the "over the top" style of writing, and the inaccuracies. Those seeking a more condensed and temperate account of Hunt's life may wish to seek out the biography written by the Canadian journalist Gerald Donaldson.

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