In the 1910s and 1920s, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were two of the most famous men in America. They were also friends who regularly vacationed with each other. In his latest book, Jeff Guinn chronicles the quirky friendship between these two prickly historical figures, as well as their numerous road trips across a changing, modernizing America.
I’ve written on here before about how much I enjoy Jeff Guinn’s books–here and here. I regularly proselytize for him and his work to anyone who has the misfortune of asking me what I like to read. After reading his book on Jonestown a couple of years ago, I have waited impatiently for his newest book, The Vagabonds, and I did really enjoy it, though I must confess it is not usually a topic I would read about.
This book is a really good example of all the things I like about Jeff Guinn as a writer while also not being about the same topics he usually writes about (true crime).
Guinn recognizes that people are complex, and he never shies away from that in his work. In The Vagabonds, he intersects discussion of the road trips with the broader context of Ford’s and Edison’s life stories as people. He points out both their good qualities and their negative ones while also shining a light on lesser-known members of The Vagabonds, such as tire maker Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs.
Guinn also always does a wonderful job of weaving a person’s biography into a broader social history context. He does this in multiple ways, especially in exploring 1910s/1920s concepts of celebrity and the way the Vagabonds’ own road trips reflected changes in how Americans traveled and vacationed. And as always, Guinn’s research is in-depth and his informative footnotes are just as interesting (to me, at least) as the narrative itself.
The Vagabonds also just features some good road trip stories, which I always enjoy. My favorite is the first one the Vagabonds undertook, a badly-planned, hastily-arranged venture into the Everglades (against local advice) that quickly turned into the ultimate camping trip from hell. It happened in 1914, but it sounds like something people in 2019 still do.
This is an interesting look at a subject I never would have paid attention to if Guinn hadn’t been the author, but it is well worth reading. Even though I’m a true crime fanatic who has devoured his other books, it’s also nice to read something of his that doesn’t give me nightmares. 🙂
The only downside is now I have to wait another 2 years or so for him to write another book. . . .
Recommended for history buffs.
Are you a fellow Jeff Guinn fan? What author do you always look forward to new work from? Do you have any good road trip stories? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog to find more information on this item or to place a hold.