A portrait of a changing America and two titans of industry—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford—told through the little-known narrative of the summer road trips the two took together for publicity as much as for fun.
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.