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Eddie Rickenbacker

An American Hero in the Twentieth Century

Eddie Rickenbacker epitomized the American spirit in the twentieth century. Daring, skilled, and rugged—moving fast and defying death—he drove race cars in the early days of the automobile, then flew canvas-over-wooden-frame aeroplanes in the Great War, downing twenty-six enemy flyers and emerging at war's end as the nation's ace of aces. Only Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing and the much-decorated Sgt. Alvin York emerged from that struggle as equally lauded American heroes.

Failing as an automobile maker after the war, Rickenbacker returned to aviation, joined Eastern Airlines in 1934, and quickly reached the top of the corporate ladder. With the start of World War II, he took on special missions to theaters of combat, surviving twenty-one days adrift on a small rubber raft after his plane went down at sea. But the seemingly indestructible Eddie did not thrive well under the new competitive conditions in the postwar airline industry. Despite having built Eastern into a major carrier, he departed the company under pressure in 1963.

W. David Lewis's biography of Rickenbacker reveals both the achievements and the vulnerability of this quintessential American hero. Rickenbacker embodied what was new, exciting, and romantic about the country in the postwar years. His poignant story also sheds light on the ephemerality of American success and the fragility of celebrity.

Capturing Rickenbacker's life in rich and vivid detail, W. David Lewis has written the definitive biography of America's ace of aces.

About the Author

Until his death in September 2007, W. David Lewis was a Distinguished University Professor at Auburn University.


"This well-written and well-researched biography tells the life story of one of America's greatest, most widely-recognized, and controversial airmen."

"Mr. Lewis' research, 15 years of it, is meticulous, showing the beauty of how fact-based reality can top fiction for excitement, irony and tragedy. Mr. Lewis has painted a balanced, complete picture of an extremely complex man. It's obvious the author has a love for his subject, but this is not hagiography: All aspects of Rickenbacker's personality are laid on the table."

"Lewis is comprehensive about his subject."

"A riveting read—certainly the best telling of the Rickenbacker story we are ever likely to have."

"Makes for an avid story not just of Rickenbacker and his world, but of an evolving transportation industry."

"Lewis provides readers with the definitive biography of this extraordinary man."

"This book will give a whole new generation of readers insights into a truly unique American character."

"Lewis's intent is to replace Rickenbacker's self-promoting, ghost-written autobiographies with a reliable scholarly life."

"Lewis has given us an unabashedly individual and heroic story from the heart of our era's passion for motorized speed."

"[Lewis] has compiled the definitive biography of Eddie Rickenbacker, an often forgotten American hero and entrepreneur. Exhaustively researched and well written, Lewis's study chronicles the life and achievements of Rickenbacker from his humble beginnings as the son of Swiss immigrants through his rise to heroic military veteran and founding father of American auto racing and airline travel."


"Lewis gives us the definitive biography of Eddie Rickenbacker, the first great American Ace of Aces, providing a fascinating view of the first half-century of American aviation as experienced by one of its most important pioneers."

- Thomas Crouch, Senior Curator, Aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum

"Lewis takes you to the Pacific Ocean and sits you right next to Eddie Rickenbacker in a yellow raft. For the next twenty-four days without food or water, Eddie and a B-17 crew of seven will fight for their lives. This harrowing story of survival is the heart and soul of this masterpiece and will surely place it on every bestseller list."

- Dan Clemons, Rickenbacker collector and historian

"A superb achievement by a master historian. Professor Lewis strips away the many myths that have grown up around Rickenbacker to reveal an even more fascinating flawed American hero."

- William M. Leary, E. Merton Coulter Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Georgia

"This long overdue and vitally needed biography of one of America's greatest heroes is brilliantly done. Only the superb research of author W. David Lewis, combined with his intricate knowledge of aviation history, could produce such a monumental work, setting new standards for military biographies. Every library, every scholar, and most particularly, every aviation buff, should have a copy."

- Colonel Walter J. Boyne, former director, National Air and Space Museum
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801882449 : eddie-rickenbacker-lewis
720 Pages
$59.00 USD
9780801889721 : eddie-rickenbacker-lewis
Paperback / softback
720 Pages
$35.00 USD

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