When you’re as obsessed with cars as we are, the passion doesn’t end when the key is taken out of the ignition. (Though who uses a key to start a car anymore?) Once the snow starts falling and the tracks shut down, and the mountain trails are no longer passable, we like to sit by the fire, coffee (or whiskey) in one hand, book in the other.
These stories range from nonfiction to fiction, novels to photo essays, but all of them inspire us, and help keep boredom at bay when the weather turns bleak and the fun cars get stashed away.
‘Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans’
Have you seen “Ford v Ferrari” yet? If you want another perspective on the epic battle on- and off-track between the companies (and strong personalities that ran them, and drove for them), you should read the book that inspired the earliest drafts of the movie back in the early 2010s. The script and actors changed, but the underlying story hasn’t – and A.J. Baime’s book tells the tale in a captivating, engrossing way.
This isn’t dry, dull history. It’s a vibrant story of anger, revenge, carburetors, and the ever-present danger of instant fiery death if the man or machine gets something wrong. Add the larger than life characters of Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, complex men with very different motivations playing an expensive and dangerous game of chess while talented engineers and drivers carry out their wishes on the ground. I read it in two or three obsessive sessions – Baime’s story flows cinematically, and the subject matter is riveting. Read it and watch the movie to get two perspectives on the same legendary grudge match. – Alex Kierstein, Senior Editor
‘And on That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear’
Richard Porter is a funny, funny man. It’s no wonder he was a script editor during the golden age of Top Gear, writing lines for Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May before a fracas sent the trio to Amazon with a new show. His “And on That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear” isn’t so much a history of the show as it is a series of anecdotes – very funny and revealing anecdotes – about some of the bits you’ve always wondered about. Was the show actually scripted? “Of course it was,” Porter tells us. “All television is scripted.”
Porter covers a lot of ground, and anyone who enjoyed the show in its heyday will find lots of fascinating insights into how it was made and some surprisingly poignant moments. And Porter deftly covers the scandal that ended the show, a swing by Clarkson at a well-loved producer, and he hits the right tone. Good news! The Dacia Sandero gets more than a few pages, and the bottom line is that the little insights you can’t find anywhere else, served up by the ultimate insider, are worth the price of admission. You can read our full review of the book here. – Alex Kierstein, Senior Editor
‘The Americans,’ by Robert Frank
In addition to being a raw and honest portrait of 1950s America, I find this book to be a good example of how concept can transcend technique — critics sometimes disparaged Frank’s technical skills, like his exposures not being “good” — but in my opinion, if there are any technical “flaws,” they are immaterial as they do not detract from this book’s effectiveness.
Jack Kerouac (Frank was friends with Kerouac, Ginsberg, and other artists of the time) wrote the introduction for “The Americans.” And while Kerouac’s words pair beautifully with Frank’s images, what I love about this book is that the photographs stand alone and read together as poetry in their own right. – Eddie Sabatini, Production Manager
‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’
‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72,’ by Hunter S. Thompson
Like Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist interested in pushing boundaries.
“Las Vegas” follows a weekend road trip gone wrong, or right, I suppose you could say. A long drug-fueled journey into the desert, in search of the American dream.
“Campaign Trail” features the articles that Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine while covering Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.
Works like these, and “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” get co-opted by party culture (some people try ill-advised re-creations of the road trip from “… Las Vegas”) but they are much more than drug manifestos. They are portraits of Time and Place that drive straight to the heart of the human condition, however ugly it can get. They are strange, funny, scary, unique, and filled with beautiful writing:
“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” – Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – Eddie Sabatini, Production Manager
‘Travels with Charley: In Search of America,’ by John Steinbeck
Published in 1962, “Travels with Charley” is a snapshot of America as seen through the eyes of one of its greatest novelists. In it, Steinbeck hits the open road with his poodle Charley in a truck fitted with a camper. The book chronicles their journey — the places they go, the people they meet, the food they eat — as well as the culture of a country undergoing rapid technological and political change. It’s unlikely to have you yearning for the good old days, but it might just inspire you to get a dog and a pickup and see the country for yourself. – John Beltz Snyder, Senior Editor
‘Trigger Mortis,’ by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz does an amazing Ian Fleming impression in this James Bond novel, which takes place shortly after the events in “Goldfinger.” With the Cold War and Space Race as a backdrop, our favorite spy does what he always does: travel the world, drive fast cars and make friends with dangerous women. Part of the storyline involves 007 taking part in a Grand Prix (behind the wheel of a Maserati 4CLT) at the Nürburgring in an attempt to foil a Russian plot against a fellow British racer. – John Beltz Snyder, senior editor
‘Speed Secrets,’ by Ross Bentley
In addition to busting certain myths about performance driving, Bentley’s “Speed Secrets” series provides useful and memorable tips to help you drive better on the track. The tips range from the realms of car control, to helpful science, to mindset, to overcoming bad habits and more, helping you gain every advantage and shave precious time off your laps. – John Beltz Snyder, Senior Editor
‘Driving Ambition: The Official Inside Story of the McLaren F1,’ by Gordon Murray, Ron Dennis and Doug Nye
I have always believed the McLaren F1 to be the greatest driver’s car ever made. Unfortunately, I have no tangible proof of that, never having driven one. The closest to the driver’s seat I can get is this book, made with complete support from McLaren. Any questions you may have about the thought process behind any decision made during development can be answered by this book — Gordon Murray, Ron Dennis and Doug Nye are the authors, for god’s sake. If you happen to have the McLaren F1 bug like myself, then you absolutely need to own this book. You’ll find something new and interesting each time you read it, as well — my father has gone cover to cover multiple times, and he always finds something new we have to discuss that we may have overlooked before. – Zac Palmer, Assistant Editor
‘Thus Spake David E.: The Collected Wit and Wisdom of the Most Influential Automotive Journalist of Our Time,’ by David E. Davis Jr.
It was my first day on the job, a recent college graduate getting his start in the car magazine business. I’m sure I arrived early, overdressed and underprepared. The managers who interviewed me for the position were of my generation — only about a half-decade older than myself — but they had only told (warned?) me of the legendary editor-in-chief at the top of the operation. So there I sat, staring at a blank screen as my computer booted up, waiting for my coworkers to arrive, when that booming voice greets me for the first time.
“You must be the new guy,” barked an imposing gentleman of about 75 years of age, his waxed mustache curling upwards as he gave me the once-over. Surely I blurted out some sort of bootlick salutation and waited for his retort. “You’re fired,” the man said in a gruff, matter-of-fact tone, already lumbering toward his corner office (you know, the one with a genuine grenade teetering near the edge of a giant wooden desk, a blood-stained leather racing helmet resting on the bookshelf behind). It wasn’t until thunderous laughter emerged from behind a slammed door that I knew to stop packing my belongings. I had been faux-fired in what I came to learn was a sort of tradition — even an honor— for those in the orbit of “the dean of automotive journalism,” David E. Davis, Jr.
I’m not going to pretend like David E. and I had some sort of mentor, mentee relationship. In the grand scheme of things, we only worked together very briefly, and I was the lowest rung on the ladder. But, the consummate storyteller couldn’t help inviting whoever might be walking by into his office in for the occasional conversation (in my case, of the sort where I listen and he speaks) and it was during one of these visits that David E. presented me with a signed copy of his collected writings, “Thus Spake David E.” Craving a deeper understanding of the mythos behind my boss’s boss’s boss, I devoured the memoir in just a few sittings. It was through his writing that I learned of the extraordinary details of that thrashed racing helmet, and all the incredible events that unfolded thereafter. – Adam Morath, General Manager
The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History,’ by Jason Vuic
I have a strange fascination with terrible and unsuccessful cars, which is what drew me to “The Yugo,” but this story is far too fascinating to be restricted to weirdos like me. In addition to highlighting the weaknesses, and even strengths (hard as it is to believe) of the Yugo, it’s also a story of the culture clash between the capitalist West and the communist East. It’s an analysis of the optimism and borderline con-artistry of Malcom Bricklin, from his Subaru days to Yugo. And with clean, sharp writing and loads of first-hand accounts of the company, it reads less like a history textbook and more like a killer documentary. Who would have thought the worst car would have one of the best stories? – Joel Stocksdale, Associate Editor
‘Backroads and 4 Wheel Drive Trails,’ by Charles A. Wells and Matt Peterson
The first time I ever went to Moab was with Senior Editor Alex Kierstein and Associate Producer Alex Malburg. We were driving the new Jeep Gladiator, and I wanted some shots on real trails. I also didn’t want to get stuck. This book helped out immensely with fantastic descriptions of every trail, great photographs and notes on how to get to and from the trailhead. Since that trip I bought two more of these books, for northern and southern Colorado, my home state. Even when I’m not wheeling, I like to read through them and imagine future off-road adventures. – Christopher McGraw, Senior Producer
‘180° South,’ by Yvon Chouinard, Jeff Johnson and Chris Malloy
A companion to the documentary that shares its name, “180° South” is filled with photos of one of the most influential road trips of all time. In 1968 Yvon Chouinard, who went on to found the ultra-popular outdoor company Patagonia after this trip, and Doug Tompkins, who, along with his wife founded The North Face, bought a high-mileage 1965 Ford Econoline and drove it from sunny California down to the mountains of Patagonia. Once there, they surfed, skied and climbed all over. The original trip was then made into a documentary called “Mountain of Storms.”
Inspired by that original story, photographer and filmmaker Jeff Johnson and a few friends decided to follow in Chouinard’s footsteps. The film is one of my favorites and inspired me to travel to Patagonia numerous times in my life. Thankfully, the book is just as good, featuring amazing photography not included in the film. – Christopher McGraw, Senior Producer
‘Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed,’ by John F. Ross
This is a really interesting biography of an influential figure. It paints a complete picture of his life, which had many chapters. His days as a race car driver showcase the dangers and skills that were ever-present in racing’s early period, which will be of top interest to car buffs. His heroism in the First World War also provides plenty of material for history fans. It’s a quick read that has a novel-feel to it. I stumbled across it at the library, and I’m glad I did. – Greg Migliore, Editor-in-Chief