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Features - Book Review

DECEMBER 19, 2003

Donald Campbell - The Man behind the Mask

Donald Campbell - The Man behind the Mask

By David Tremayne

Bantam Press, hardback, 415pp, £20.00

ISBN 0593 050584

To be published in January 2004, David Tremayne's new book about speed record hero Donald Campbell is not strictly a motor racing book and perhaps we should not be reviewing it on However we have concluded that most race fans will be interested in this extraordinary story.

Tremayne was one of our original contributors and reviewing a book by a friend and colleague is never an easy task. One is acutely aware that those who know of the relationship will conclude that there is bound to be some bias involved. So it is best to declare the relationship in advance. David did not send us a review copy of the book until we asked for one. The reason we asked is that we have watched the book grow over many years and we know the passion and the care that has gone into it. The result is a quite remarkable book which should be read whether you share the passion of speed records or whether you know little about them. We can with total honesty say that there is no need for bias in this review. It is a brilliant book and we would go as far as to say that it is best motor racing-related book since Ginny Williams's "A Different Kind of Life" which was published back in 1991.

If you need further convincing then you should read the foreword to Tremayne's book from Campbell's own daughter Gina. She never reads anything about the family, she said, because because of the numerous inaccurate and fictitious accounts that have appeared over the years. She admits that by reading the book she learned things about her family which even she did not know and concludes that "this is a marvellous piece of work."

The brilliance of the book is the fact that unlike so many motor racing books it has not been churned out to meet a deadline but rather is the result of a passion to tell a story properly and unravel a complex character with total honesty. It not only catalogues the life and times of Donald Campbell, who set both land and water speed records and survived at accident on Bonneville Flats at 360mph, but also assesses the character of this complicated man: warts and all but without a hint of sensationalism. Such things can only be achieved with intense care, painstaking research, an enormous amount of thought and great sensitivity to extract the right information from the people who were involved. One can only marvel at how Tremayne managed to get so much from people who have jealously guarded the memory of Campbell since his death at the controls of the Bluebird boat on Coniston Water in 1967.