Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Amazing Summer of '55 - Eoin Young

Just recently, I surveyed some of the unread books piled up in a corner of my humble abode.  One which caught my attention was The Amazing Summer of '55, written by the late Eoin Young. This tells the story of the dramatic, tragic and turbulent motor racing season of that year.

The book takes the form of a series of articles, arranged in chronological order, covering the pivotal racing events of 1955. Extensive use is made of quotes from participants and excerpts from diaries, giving many of the episodes a genuine rawness and immediacy. The individual articles are concise and breezy, and they cover not just the "obvious" topics and incidents, but also some more obscure and less-publicized things which occurred during the year in question.

Human interest stories are combined with technical details.  The informality and relative lack of regimentation of the mid-Fifties shines through, although doubtless the "old hands" of that period bemoaned how things were different from previous times.

This was an intriguing epoch, not just in motor racing but in the wider world. The remnants of the "pre-war" world were increasingly in collision with elements of modernity such as technological progress, scientific advances and social change. The stories concerning Ruth Ellis and James Dean help to illustrate and emphasize the latter.

The epic and momentous nature of the Mille Miglia never ceases to impress and captivate, and it is accorded due prominence here. There are some evocative quotes and passages, and amusing anecdotes.

A strong quality of this book is how it covers the broad canvas of motorsport, not just the Grands Prix, but also sportscar racing in all its facets, and also the Indianapolis 500. One can get a real flavour of the culture of racing back then, and the attitudes and motivations of the people involved.

Of course, the disaster at Le Mans in 1955 figures strongly in this work, and the horror is powerfully evoked. Some interesting material is featured relating to the aftermath, the ramifications and the investigations, especially on the response of Mercedes to the tragedy.  These sections, and also the chapter examining the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod, highlight perhaps most acutely the differences between now and then.

I worked my way through this book through it very quickly, which is generally a good sign. It is the kind of book which prompts the reader to seek out additional information about some of the topics covered.  A lively and enjoyable read.

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