At the turn of the 20th century, hundreds of handsome, lightning-fast racers won the hearts and minds of a bicycling-crazed public. Scientists studied them, newspapers glorified them, and millions of dollars in purse money was awarded to them. Major Taylor aimed to be the fastest of them all. A prominent black man at a time when such a thing was deemed scandalous, his mounting victories, high moral virtue, and bulletlike riding style made him a target for ridicule from the press and sabotage by the white riders who shared the track with him.
Taylor’s most formidable and ruthless opponent—a man nicknamed the “Human Engine”—was Floyd McFarland. One man was white, one black; one from a storied Virginia family, the other descended from Kentucky slaves; one celebrated as a hero, one trying to secure his spot in a sport he dominated. The only thing they had in common was the desire to be named the fastest man alive. Their rivalry riveted first America, and then the world. Finally, in 1904, both men headed to Australia for a much-anticipated title match to decide, beyond dispute, who would claim the coveted title.
Major is the gripping story of a superstar nobody saw coming—a classic underdog, aided by an unlikely crew: a disgraced fight promoter, a broken ex-racer, and a poor upstate girl from New York who wanted to be a queen. It is also the account of a fierce rivalry that would become an archetypal tale of white versus black in the 20th century. Most of all, it is the tale of our nation’s first black sports celebrity—a man who transcended the handicaps of race at the turn of the century to reach the stratosphere of fame.
About the Author
TODD BALF, a former senior editor for Outside magazine, has profiled the iconic personalities in pro bicycle racing for numerous national magazines, including Men’s Journal, ESPN The Magazine, and Bicycling. He is the author of The Last River and The Darkest Jungle. He lives in Beverly, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.
"Balf revels in the bicycle’s bone-shaking evolution and the top-gun fraternity of daredevils who literally risked life and limb to race."
"With Major, Todd Balf has given us an astonishing book about race and racing in Gilded Age America. This is literary sports writing at its finest. In the tradition of David Halberstam and Frank DeFord, Balf painst intimate portraits of young athletes at the top of their game- and takes us on an epic ride to a nearly forgotten world of sport."
–Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers
"If a literary magician could somehow combine the longshot thrill of Seabiscuit, the groundbreaking nobility of Jackie Robinson, and the dramatic flair of Babe Ruth, the result would be something close to this book. Major Taylor is perhaps the greatest American underdog story ever told; I couldn't put it down."
-- Daniel Coyle, author of Lance Armstrong's War and Hardball
"In Major, Todd Balf has given us the true story of a fascinating, vanished sports world, and one of America's first, great black champions. It reads as fast and as beautifully as its heroes spin."
-- Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley and Dreamland