A trio of American Heritage authors have expanded their articles into books
The editors are full of parental pride just now, as recent weeks have seen the publication of three fine books that found their genesis as articles in this magazine. Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race , by Julie Fenster (Crown, 400 pages, $25.00), tells the story of an enterprise that in its day was roughly equivalent to a kayak race across the Atlantic. The project was an automobile run from Times Square west to Paris, through a whole palette of obstacles: American prairie; Russian steppes; China; the Bering Strait (the occasional boat was briefly allowed); and no good roads anywhere outside midtown Manhattan. Fenster tells her story with zest and humor and an absolute command of the formidable mechanical challenges but never loses sight of the real courage that fueled the project.
The novelist and historian Thomas Fleming has been a contributor since our earliest days. One particularly memorable article charted Boss Frank Hague’s control of the New Jersey political machine; another, his father’s service in the Argonne during World War I. In 1991 he brought these two strands together in American Heritage in a moving essay called “Visions of My Father.” His father was one of Hague’s most effective lieutenants as well as an exemplar of the hard-handed second-generation-immigrant scrapper who wants better for his children but is resentful when they get it. Fleming details their complex, rich, and often contentious relationship in Mysteries of My Father: An Irish-American Memoir (Wiley, 352 pages, $24.95).
Dai Vernon was a consummate magician who could do any card trick-except the fabled “middle deal.” Then, late one night in a Wichita jail, a prisoner told Vernon that, yes, he’d seen the trick performed. Thus began an obsessive pursuit, a tangy, picaresque odyssey through the salons and gambling hells of 1930s America. Karl Johnson keeps the story hopping in The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America’s Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist (Henry Holt, 368 pages, $26.00).