An arresting account of America's auto-camping movement and its incipient motivators. Highly recommended, especially for social historians, travel and camping enthusiasts, automotive specialists, naturalists, and also for general readers.
The Vagabonds is ostensibly a book about...vacations. But the road trips themselves, alas, are not very compelling. They were exhaustively documented by that army of reporters, and exhaustively researched by Guinn, but all the pandering to the watching press starts to feel a little redundant after a while. The appearance of two sitting presidents barely livens up events ... Guinn...offers a fascinating snapshot of some of the less-famous years of American history, including the xenophobic turmoil of 1919 and the depression of 1920 ... Woven into the backdrop of the story is a portrait of America's burgeoning love affair with the automobile ... Those threads are all well worth the read. But Guinn himself seems most interested in charting the rising and falling personal and business fortunes—and in the case of Ford, political ambitions—of the two men. And it's here that the book falls short. The Vagabonds portrays all Ford and Edison's flaws, from minor peccadilloes to monstrous bigotry, in the warmest possible light ... The entire book lays...positive attributes on heavily, and shies away from 'unfortunate flaws' ... It's the kind of laudatory coverage you'd expect from the adulatory press of the Vagabonds' own era. But it's a century later. Can't we admit that 'great men' are far more interesting with their baggage than without?
... [an] offbeat, anecdote-filled mix of biography and travelogue ... As Guinn follows the cross-country perambulations of these Vagabonds—as they dubbed themselves—over ten years and from Florida to California, he also tracks the remarkable technological and cultural changes they left in their wake. A fascinating slice of rarely considered American history.
The glimpses of early automobile travel are fascinating ... Guinn’s book is more of a chronological report than a stirring narrative. Descriptions of the excursions become too detailed and repetitive, prompting one to wish that instead of a 320-page book, the author might have considered a hefty New Yorker magazine article. Nevertheless, The Vagabonds is an interesting glimpse into a slice of these inventors’ lives not often seen.
An amiable and inconsequential book, it belongs on the shelf with tales of other American oddities ... Mr. Guinn has chosen to tell his story chronologically, which only underscores the repetitiousness of it all. Occasionally the tedium is broken ... A basic problem with the triviality of The Vagabonds is that it underplays the complexity of Ford’s character ... in his pages their travels read more like ego trips than do-gooder missions.
Guinn has a lot of fun documenting the double takes from unsuspecting souls who saw Ford and his friends on the road ... One of the pleasures of The Vagabonds is remembering a time when travelers – even those as wealthy as Firestone – did get lost, without the benefit of navigation systems to set them straight ... Guinn doesn’t overlook the darker overtones of his story.
... lighthearted but detailed ... a charming account of America in the early 20th century ... Any reader who has ever traveled around or across America by car can appreciate what Guinn has captured ... Guinn provides readers with colorful and insightful portraits of these two giants of American industry ... a wonderful biography and historical narrative. It reminds us of bygone eras and a changing America when the landscape of our nation was forever impacted by the invention and production of the automobile. As you journey on your summer road trip, Guinn’s engaging work may be the perfect accompaniment to your trip, wherever your destination may be.
... quirky, intermittently engaging ... Interspersed with the mostly dry anecdotes about the Vagabonds’ rambles are portraits of an America convulsed by mechanical wonders and isolationism, both of which were eagerly fed by the anti-Semitic Ford. It’s a thin premise for a book, but Guinn does present some pleasing kernels of American history.
... Guinn...tells an entertaining story that mixes sharp portraits of their vivid personalities with details of their travels and a portrait of American society during those years ... An amusing account of celebrity travelers through the primitive and yet vaguely familiar America of 100 years ago.