You know how a lot of marque-specific car books tend to be a bit on the lightweight side? A couple of anecdotes about the designers and then a lot of pretty pictures? Not this monster!
See, if you're serious about Porsches- and what Porsche zealot isn't?- you want a book about Ferdinand Porsche, the father of the brand, to pack some heft! You'll need a level of detail that's so overwhelmingly, in fact alarmingly, obsessive that you'll learn something new on every page.
This is such a book. Nearly 500 pages, a bonanza of Über-Geeky technical details (ever wonder how Ferdinand managed to make the connecting-rod arrangement work in a W9 aircraft engine in 1917?), and eleventy-million vintage photographs. On top of that, you get eight gorgeous, porn-grade foldout color pages with cutaway illustrations by artist Wolfgang Franke, featuring such machines as the 1922 Austro-Daimler ADS-R and the 1936 Auto Union C-Type. This thing- which weighs about as much as a manhole cover- is definitely one of the most beautiful car books I've ever seen, and it will make the other car books on your coffee table look like Go, Dog Go.
But hey, now that I've mentioned Porsche's role in designing the Auto Union race cars, we've got to address the most troubling aspect of Genesis Of Genius: its treatment of Ferdinand's activities once Hitler and the National Socialist Party came to power. Here's what we get on that subject: deafening silence. The narrative reaches the early 1930s and then… starts… treading… very… carefully… among… the… land mines. For example, the Auto Union racers were pure propaganda tools for the Third Reich, just like their athletes in the '36 Olympics- surely Porsche had some comments on the subject at the time? Not in this book. As Ludvigsen states in the preface: "This account of Ferdinand Porsche's career stops short of detailed description of the well-known achievements that some consider his greatest, the Auto Union racer and the Volkswagen. Thus we've characterized these years as the Genesis Of Genius." A cop-out? Sure! Perhaps acceptable in a straight-up wank job of a book aimed at the most devoted of single-interest car geeks, but we're dealing with a high-quality, obsessively researched and well-executed biography here and such omissions say something- is ominous too strong a word?- about the author's expectations of his readership.
So, because I'm an elitist biography snob who gets offended when the subject's warts get airbrushed out (I'm reading this book at the moment), I'm going to deduct a rod from the highest possible 5-rod rating (in honor of the Mercedes-Benz OM617) and give this book four rods. Murilee says check it out!
Images reprinted with permission from Ferdinand Porsche—Genesis of Genius by Karl Ludvigsen, © Bentley Publishers, all rights reserved.