Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend Paperback – May 1 2012
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An Esquire Best Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Sports Book of the Year
“Slick, pulpy, eye-filling, exhaust-belching. . . . Smart, rowdy fun. . . . [Montville writes] as if pulling a wheelie across every page. . . . Evel is never dull.”
—The New York Times
“[Evel] goes beyond the action-figure image, painting Knievel in all his contradictions. . . . In Montville’s capable hands, Knievel soars again in all his profane, self-deluded glory.”
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s . . . the coolest man on earth was Evel Knievel. . . . Montville brings him vividly back in an outlandishly entertaining new biography.”
—New York Post
“Engrossing. . . . A wild ride on the back of Knievel’s cycle.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Awesome. . . . A rollicking good tale. . . . Montville nails it just right.”
—The Hollywood Reporter
“If Knievel lived ‘as if his pants were on fire,’ then his biographer writes like a house on fire. . . . In describing the complex, contradictory stuntman’s battles with the demons that would ultimately destroy him, [Montville] pulls out all the stops.”
—The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg)
“The best biographies not only tell you what people did, they capture their personalities as well, making readers feel as if they are sitting down at a long, well-lubricated dinner with the subject. Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers is one such bio, and another is Leigh Montville's brilliant recent biography of Evel Knievel: Evel.”
—Jim Caple, ESPN.com
“Fresh and exciting. . . . A fast-paced thrill ride through a life of success, sex and excess that is sure to leave you winded.”
—The Montana Standard
“Montville has been doing big time things with his clever writing mind and his flying keyboard fingers for decades. . . . The job he did on [Evel] tops the others, good as they are. The outrageousness of his subject and Montville's matchless ability to entertain and report make it so.”
“Greatly entertaining. . . . A biography as sensationalist and superior as the daredevil himself.”
About the Author
Three-time New York Times bestselling author Leigh Montville is a former columnist at the Boston Globe and former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He is the author of The Mysterious Montague, The Big Bam, Ted Williams, At the Altar of Speed, Manute, and Why Not Us? He lives in Boston.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I found it tremendously educational as to the inherent lifestyle of the average families in the mining town of Butte in the 1800's and 1900's. The accepted outlook of a short life expectancy in unsafe and unhealthy mines... described in such detail... that at times the reader would be excused if he gasps for breath. The life outside the mines which included bar after bar after bar... and prostitute after prostitute after prostitute... and the daily conclusion that your husband or brother would not see another day as they went off to work. It was from this rough hewn world that Evel became what can only be described as a despicable individual... despite his "Captain America" uniform and his million dollar payments for the seemingly never ending list of toys in his image that became a staple of youth at the height of his popularity.
The author's in depth research paints a picture of a womanizing, alcoholic, lying, thieving, braggart. Part of Knievel's mantra was what a great wife he had in Linda, and how he loved her so much. Yet he constantly and unrepentantly cheated on her with anything in a dress. He showed so little regard for his wife as a person, that he would pick up women right in front of her. Evel would lie to friends and acquaintances alike about payments that would either never be given... or would be given with phony checks. In addition to the surprise of what a truly abhorrent character he was... it was also shocking to find out how little detailed research and practice was put in, in preparation for some of his life threatening jumps. It's hard to believe that his attempted Rocket cycle jump at Snake River not only never had a full launch test... but some of its main components were bought for a hundred dollars in salvage yards. Yet somehow he became the darling of "Wide World Of Sports" and many other venues. Even with the millions he earned... after buying literally a fleet of boats and yachts... luxury car after luxury car... more jewels than your average princess... he wound up broke and even spent time in jail for a cowardly attack on a writer with his "lead-pipe" walking stick. (Not to be confused with his walking stick stocked with Wild Turkey.)
By the end of this book, regardless of your age, and whether you had been a fan of Evel during his lifetime... or simply played with his toys... you'll want to wash your hands to get the filth off. Additionally... as my Grandfather used to say: "If BS was music... Knievel would have been a brass brand!" The author did a great job with a less than savory character.
As with most of the stars of that era (Ali and Aaron being exceptions), the image did not really fit the reality. In Knievel's case, this was a story begging to be told. Knievel was so outrageous, and such an ugly human being, that although his self promotion can be admired, there is little redeeming about the man himself. Beyond naked ambition, and the drive which took him to the heights of celebrity, there is little to admire about him.
In sum, this is what makes his story so interesting. Although he made millions of dollars, he spent it so foolishly, and wastefully, that his canniness comes off as rubishnness. He had little integrity, was an amoral philanderer, a drunk, a cheat and a disloyal offensive lout. He offended almost everyone he came in contact with.
And yet, like the sociopaths of The Soprano's, he was capable of charm, at times. This is what won some people over. And yet, when his act grew tired, and his celebrity began to wane, his fan base decided he was not worth the bother, and his business associates did not care to be around him.
Knievel discovered the concept of "Branding" before it became popular, and he rode it to the top of the sports world.
For the most part, this is a well written book. The writer uses a seldom seen device that makes the writing seem a little choppy. The narration will be flowing, and he will all the sudden announce "A Story". He will proceed to tell of something that happened in Kneivel's career. Normally something outrageous. It will illustrate the point, but it makes the story telling seem self-conscious.
Yet, a well researched and narrated book about a Cultural Icon of a time gone by.
What's so great about this book are the stories. Montville sometimes simply adds "A Story", related to whatever subject he's writing on, it's very effective and more like an in depth, in depth scoop of what's going on.
There's a lot of material here, a lot of it is pretty sobering. Truth to tell, we all know what a con man is like and that's what Evel simply was, a con man. What separated Evel from other's like him is that he was crazy enough to truly, actually, really, incredibly, be an actual daredevil! I mean, devil is in this word right? Montville talks about Evel's inner voice, or lack thereof, an innervoice that just says "do it, DO IT!". Evel had everything to lose and EVERYTHING to gain. Just think, famous people would come up to him and say "Hi Evel, it's me Richard Burton and I just want to let you know I'm a fan". Can you imagine what that does to an already narcisstic, self-centered, egomaniac, CON MAN like Evel Knievel?!! God, if the guy wasn't already a bonifide self-made, homegrown, terrorist on society then the admiration from MOVIE STARS sealed the deal!!
So, what was Evel? Was he just a con man? Was he crazy? Was he smarter than everyone else in the room? This book really seems to answer it all, Montville doesn't leave ANY stone unturned. The short answer is that Evel was basically a sleazebag con man who finally figured out that jumping motorcycles was the ultimate con. Yep, it gave a con man access to what he believes is his birthright. Money, Sex, movies, TV deals, more sex, more money, etc. But alas, he was just a trailer trash con man and they always, always screw their life up along with anyone else that comes along for the ride. Evel was truly a rude, disgusting man who drank too much, beat his wife and kids, oredered everyone around, lied about everything. His downfall was that he couldn't even tolerate anyone writing about him and profiting from it. Why? I'm guessing Evel knew the con and didn't want anyone else in on it. NOBODY would profit by writing the truth, NOBODY! And when somebody tried, Evel threw away his entire career, EVERYTHING, by literally beating the man until he was unconscious. He actually tried to kill the man!!
So yeah, after a long trip through the late 60's and most of the 70's the con was revealed. After the ugly attempted murder happened Montville wisely wraps up Evel's last 30 years in just a couple of pages, genius writing in my opinion. Everyone, Everybody who ever came into contact was a victim of Evel's cons and schemes one way or another. I'm only telling one thousandth of the whole story, the book does the rest. I can't believe how revealing it is, the worst is the wife and child beating. One man who hears the beatings going on simply says "Evel was an awful man", and that's simply the gods honest truth. His legend was begun by being in a jail cell with Awful Knofel and his legend ended the way it was destined to the whole time.
In the end, Evel surpised everyone and himself by living to be 69 years old. However, those last 20-30 years were extremely painful to him. First, he lost his career and the fame and money and the homes. Second came the diseased liver and the unbearable pain throughout his body. He never really apologized to anyone, and it was fate that he ended up divorced and alone sitting on a recliner in his lower class neighborhood house with an oxygen mask strapped to his face 24 hours a day.
Finally, they named Evel wrong. He should have been called Awful -Evil -Despicable -Lowlife -CON MAN Knievel. That's what this book truly points out more than anything. It is a FANTASTIC read!
I instinctively knew at just 8-years-old that Evel Knievel was a very flawed man and not a good role model to have, but at the time I did not care. I was like Bobby Brady, who ignorantly chose criminal/killer Jesse James as his "hero" in an episode of "The Brady Bunch." The truth, though, is even worse than my child self knew: Evel Knievel was a VERY flawed man - a heavy drinker, a racist and anti-semite, a serial adulterer who made no effort at keeping his sexual conquests a secret from faithful wife Linda, and a distastefully arrogant and self-serving S.O.B. One of television's first great self-promoters, Knievel's failures as a person and as a professional daredevil (he missed half of his jumps) increased his fame as much as his successes did. People wanted to see how this jackass would screw-up next. His three most memorable jumps - Caesar's Palace, Snake River Canyon, and Wembley - were all unsuccessful, and yet at the same time VERY successful, at least in making Knievel more popular and therefore more wealthy. (And then there's the line of toys: with Evel Knievel action figures and cycles topping Christmas sales for five years, it was the toys which brought Knievel most of his money.)
Ironically, Knievel was bad at the job of motorcycle jumping. Today's jumpers, including Evel's son Robbie, easily succeed in making the same jumps which Knievel failed to make, or better and longer ones. This is partly because, as one Knievel associate says in the book, Evel Knievel wasn't actually a good motorcyclist, and partly because of technical reasons: the bikes in Evel's day weren't made for jumping and weighed in excess of 400 pounds, and Knievel didn't use mathematics or physics in planning successful jumps - he just instinctively went for it, and didn't even utilize his bike's speedometer. But as bad a person and professional as Knievel was, there was nobody like him. He was iconic of 1970s American excess and commercialism - wearing the stars and stripes as a garish and ostentatious jumpsuit. He was bold. He was daring. He captured our attention. And there was no such thing as Extreme Sports, or "daredevils" per se, back in the 1960s and 70s - Knievel invented the sport and profession; he was its godfather. Motorcycle jumping and theatrics are synonymous with Evel Knievel.
Lastly, Montville deserves credit for smartly condensing the last thirty boring years of Knievel's life into a single final chapter. Like Ted Williams (the subject of an earlier Montville book), whose legacy was marred in the end by terrible health, wrangling by his children over his fortune, and the undignified coda of having his head cryogenically frozen after death, Knievel's last three decades of Everyman obscurity aren't what we want to think about when we finish his biography. We want to remember him as he was in the 1970s: young, wearing the American flag, and flying over fourteen buses on a motorcycle.
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