Reading Speed

THE GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE: THE OFFICIAL TECHNICAL HISTORY

Posted in Technology by readingspeed on September 3, 2009

Kevin Cameron

J H Haynes & Co Ltd ISBN 1-84-425528X

With a bald pate and fierce unkempt beard like a rhododendron bush Kevin Cameron bears more than a passing resemblance to Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin. The congruencies do not end there as Cameron is similarly revered as a polymath and philosopher although by motorcycle enthusiasts rather than the anarcho-communists that venerate dear old Prince Peter.

TGPM: TOTH easily lives up to its wordy and, it has to be said, pretentiously colon-bisected title. It is a wonderfully forensic examination of the evolution of the GP motorcycle in the modern post war era. As might be expected by a writer of Cameron’s calibre both the minutiae of technical development and the broader, strategic arc of engineering effort are recorded and contextualised in a lucid and entertaining manner. Cameron’s true gift as a writer really shines in those periods when GP motorcycle development lay fallow for many seasons. The impeccable research and immaculate presentation give even the periods of slower development equal prominence and interest.

If the book has a fault it is the relentless focus on the machine. The allure of motorcycle racing is somehow diminished when shorn of its human drama. However, in its somewhat narrow frame of reference this book is without peer and despite the stiff price of admission is an essential acquisition for that reason alone.

RS Rating: 8/10

JAMES WITHAM: WHAT A GOOD DO

Posted in Biography by readingspeed on September 3, 2009

James Witham with Mac McDiarmid

J H Haynes & Co Ltd ISBN 1-84-4254925

The initial indicators from “What a Good Do” are not hopeful. First, we have the promise, or perhaps threat, of a foreword by Carl Fogarty. Amazingly, restraint is exercised and it is not until the second paragraph of the foreword that Carl tells us just how incredible he is. Second, we have a rather coy formulation telling us the book was written “with” Mac McDiarmid. I’m sure that MMcD is fine journalist and a robust man of letters however he must have a special template set up in MS Word for all these biographies of second rate British motorcycle racers he is ghost writing.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I cracked open the covers of this book. My overwhelming concern was that it would fall prey to the clich├ę of many autobiographical works in which the subject has had a brush with a life threatening illness. It was my great fear that chapter one would be a hospital scene with a recounting of Witham’s struggle with Hodgkin’s Disease. But, no, the temptation of reversion to that hackneyed saw is resisted and the events of Witham’s K├╝nstlerroman are presented in strictly chronological order.

The result is an entertaining, insightful and unsententious examination of Witham’s eventful, if not consistently successful career and is enhanced by a colourful cast of supporting characters such as Witham’s father. While, at times, the book can read like a primer for trainee orthopedic surgeons, it is a fine addition to the canon of motorcycle racer biographies.

RS Rating: 9/10