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The final word on Donald Campbell?,
This review is from: Donald Campbell, Bluebird And The Final Record Attempt (Hardcover)
Donald Campbell died before I was born but as a child his story was one that popped up again and again in books and occasional - heart stopping - replays of his final moments on TV programmes. When I was old enough to understand I was immediately impressed by the man and his succession of speed records, which kept Great Britain in the world eye and helped to ensure that people remembered the 'Great' bit. Much has been written about the speed king's life - and death - since that dark day in January 1967 and so one could ask what more could there be to write about?
The answer, it turns out, is a great deal. Neil Sheppard has amassed a stunning collection of photographs and personal reminiscences from those involved in and around Donald's team, and this book concentrates on the final few months of his life and the ill-fated attempt to push the World Water Speed Record above 300mph. Enough background is gone over so that the reader unfamiliar with the Campbell story is not left in the dark, and from Chapter 3 onwards you are immersed in the world of Bluebird K7 and the struggle to upgrade the old girl so that she would be capable of pushing past the 300mph barrier. With limited funds and time available, Donald's team were clearly facing quite a challenge - "this rather stony path" being Donald's description at one point (and this book's title before it was changed to the current one). A nice touch is that the account is strictly linear, with the date - and attendant weather conditions - noted in the margins. The cruel hand of fate, in the guise of the British weather, adds to this foreboding tale of problem after problem that leads up to the final record attempt.
The book is profusely illustrated with photographs, not just of Bluebird, but of the team members too - and of course, Donald himself. The black and whites in particular show a man ageing in the few short months of the record attempt. This single volume surely has to be the best photographic selection of both man and machine ever to be put into print, and for that alone it would be worth buying.
By Chapter 8 we have reached the sad date of 4th January 1967, and the events familiar to generations in grainy black and white footage of Bluebird K7 becoming airborne, looping and smashing into the cold waters of Coniston Water, killing Donald instantly. The next chapter covers the recovery efforts and events since, before the book changes tone entirely - which is no mistake, as the final chapter is written by another author. Dr. Keith Mitchell, a retired physicist, carries out a new analysis of the crash in this chapter, which could be a little heavy-going for some readers but the understanding of how hydroplanes work is pretty crucial to understanding what comes next. I won't spoil Keith's conclusion - which has already been poorly reported on by newspapermen who clearly didn't really understand what they were reading, and then tried to simplify it for their readers - but it lays a few myths to rest and introduces some new information that would again make this book worth buying for this chapter alone.
The book itself is beautifully produced, with clear layout and type and is also available as both Signed and Collectors' Editions (direct from the author) - the latter comes in a cardboard slip case, which folds out to reveal various information panels and a large map of the record attempt course and a wallet stuffed full of various other goodies, and is signed not only by the authors but also various members of Donald's team as well as his daughter Gina (who also provides the foreword for the book).
If I could give this book 6 stars I would - though I have to admit a little bias as I provided the drawing on page 98, so let's deduct a star for bias and call it 5 stars after all. Thoroughly, thoroughly recommended.