From the Bookshelf - “Back on Track: Racing in the 1940s” by Alessandro Silva

Shortlisted for the ‘Specialist Book’ category in last year’s Royal Automobile Club Motoring Book of the Year Awards, this mighty tome on neglected decade of motor racing, less than half a decade (1946-49) effectively, represents an enormous undertaking of scholarly research. Written by a well-travelled and highly qualified academic, its style and content though engendered diametric views on this reader.

After many years reviewing motoring books, to chime with a resonant chord of delight happens with the harmonious marriage of those two elements, and despair when is the case otherwise. The latter simply grates on the reading experience; and consequently, the book gets picked up only when information is sought to settle a particular point, and rarely to indulge in the ‘joy of serendipity’.

The print impression for this volume was a small one: the Library has one of only 300 copies. From an established publisher, this ‘edition’ is a much expanded version of drafts published in Paris and Rome a few years earlier. The sheer size of this single volume monograph – two volumes would have been preferable but no doubt costs were the mitigating factor – makes it rather unwieldy; a second volume devoted to the overwhelming indexes at the back would have divided up the material conveniently.

An anonymous foreword, and therefore presumably the author’s, is the first section that strikes one as rather odd; conventionally used as the book’s ‘raison-d’être’, here it’s purely an introduction and summary to what’s to come (duplicated to some extent with the contents pages). Secondly, notes relating to the use of the indexes are placed at the beginning of the book: firstly, not an ideal location firstly; secondly, should a reader need a ‘how-to’ guide to their consultation?

Notes to the main running text are scattered liberally. And punctuation, to take one example, all dates are presented in the form: “01.01, 1946,” – frankly bizarre. Tracks, events, and drivers are bold-texted, for no apparent reason ostensibly – other than to draw the eye to a certain point on the page. Essential to any reference book is clarity and consistency and I don’t see that here.

Enough of the negatives, let’s celebrate the positives. Drawing knowledge from such a disparate range of sources requires an extraordinary level of application and discipline. The running text reads well, although inevitably subjective in selection of material and where the emphases must lie. And as reference books go, the standard of illustrative photography, in terms of composition, choice, and quality is high. There are some very good facsimiles of the drawing of race circuits too.

All told though I can’t like this book for being an enjoyable exercise in reading but do admire the doggedness displayed in assembling such a mighty project.

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Alessandro Silva, 2019. Back On Track: Racing in the 1940s (limited ed.). Brescia, Italy: Fondazione Negri. ISBN: 8889108406 [13-digit ISBN ‘unavailable’]

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