Exploits of the courageous on land, ice, sea and in the air

Daredevils are those brave and adventurous souls who do things the rest of us are too timid or too busy to do ourselves. We, the cautious, the couch potatoes, content ourselves with vicarious thrills as our betters climb mountains, skydive, break speed records, explore unknown regions, crawl through caves, row across oceans and other dodgy things like that. Daredevil Books, an English publisher, brings us classic accounts of derring-do.
16. September 2023 6:48

Read about people such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, knighted for his land speed records; Amy Johnson, the most recognisable of Britain’s early air heroines; Spitfire pilot Richard Hillary who defied insuperable odds in the Battle of Britain; “Captain Blood” the pirate; T.E. (Thomas Edward) Lawrence, the “Lawrence of Arabia” renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt that sounded the death knell for the Ottoman Empire; and other swashbucklers and high achievers.

The latest edition from Daredevil Books is Revolt in the Desert”, which is an abridged version of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, written by T.E. Lawrence between 1919 and 1926 for his friends. The Budapest Times has an oldish paperback copy of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature edition) and it clocks in at a rather long-winded and bulky 650 or so pages, which can be a struggle, so we feel justified in thinking that in this instance (but not always, of course) a shorter version can make sense.

The Daredevil Books edition is an illustrated hardback featuring 50 original photographs (the Wordsworth Classic has none) including many taken by Lawrence himself. Daredevil describe it as a gripping first-hand account of the Arab Revolt against the Turks in 1916-1918, and a classic narrative of one of the most astonishing adventures of the Great War.

Lawrence led the uprising with the charismatic Sherif Feisal that saw the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and changed the geopolitics of the Middle East. The publisher says “Revolt in the Desert” is by “a great writer and compelling storyteller and  [he] reveals himself to be a brilliant military strategist with a unique knowledge of the region and the Arab people”.

Sir Winston Churchill wrote: “I deem him to be one of the greatest beings alive in our time …we shall never see his like again. His name will live in history.” Lawrence died aged 46 on May 19, 1935, six days after crashing his motorcycle in Dorset, UK.

Amy Johnson” by Constance Babington Smith lauds itself as the definitive account of her fascinating life (1903-1941). Written at the request of her family after her death, they gave access to her personal papers and letters, thus offering real insight into the life of a plucky woman who set many long-distance flying records.

Here are the drama of her courageous flights, for instance being the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia, in 1930, as well as the challenges of Johnson’s troubled personal life. It is 80 years since she disappeared in mysterious circumstances while flying over the Thames Estuary, and a special afterword updates the story of the search for wreckage of her crash. This hardback edition of a book written in 1966 features 40 photographs to illustrate her life and there is a foreword by modern pioneering aviator Tracey Curtis-Taylor, who was inspired by Johnson.

My Thirty Years of Speed” is autobiographical. Sir Malcolm Campbell was born on March 11, 1885 and developed a passion for speed early in his life. A pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I he had already started racing cars at Brooklands motor racing circuit and aerodrome near Weybridge in Surrey, England, in 1910. It was the world’s first purpose-built “banked’ circuit and in 1912 he suffered the first of many near-fatal accidents.

Campbell christened his first and subsequent cars “Blue Bird”, after a stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck of Belgium. The speedster first broke the land speed record at 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) on Pendine Sands, a 7-mile (11-kilometre) beach on the shores of Carmarthen Bay on the south coast of Wales, in September 1924. He became the first man to exceed 150 mph (241.4 km/h) in the following July.

In February 1931 he set a new land speed high of 231.4 mph (372.4 km/h) at Daytona, Florida, for which he was knighted by King George V. His final land speed record attempt was on the Bonneville Salt Flats at the age of 50 when his last “Blue Bird” topped 300 mph (482.8 km/h) in September 1935.

In a riveting account he describes the thrill and challenges of racing at speed as well as his adventures treasure-hunting and near-death scrapes in aeroplanes. This Daredevil Book comes in hardback and paperback with more than 60 photographs.

Continuing Daredevil Books’ formula of creating high-quality new editions of often hard-to-find iconic books is Captain Blood” by Rafael Sabatini. This is actually a novel about Peter Blood, gentleman surgeon and former soldier who barely escapes the gallows after his arrest for treating a wounded “Monmouth” rebel during the turbulent reign of King James II of England and Ireland, who ruled from 1685-1688.

Sabatini was a proponent of basing historical fiction as closely as possible on history, so while Blood is an imaginary character, much of the historical background of the novel is loosely based on fact. Blood is unfairly sentenced to ten years indentured slavery on a Barbados plantation by the notorious “ Hanging Judge”, Judge Jeffreys. The prisoner escapes and then embarks on a career as a pirate before clearing his name and returning to England to be reunited with the love of his life, Arabella Bishop.

His story is described by Daredevil as a rollicking tale of piracy on a grand scale, the classic of maritime adventure and romance. Sabatini dramatically brings the past to life with great accuracy, and his swashbuckling tale bristles with excitement as we follow the high-seas adventures of his honourable hero. American writer Norman Mailer said he had never enjoyed a novel more.

The Great White South” is written by English photographer Herbert Ponting about Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic expedition between 1910 and 1913. It has more than 60 of Ponting’s photographs of the brave, if ultimately ill-fated, expedition, on which Scott and his four companions perished while attempting to be the first to reach the South Pole.

They attained the pole on January 17, 1912, only to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had preceded them by 34 days. Scott’s party died on the return journey, and some of their bodies, journals and photos were found by a search party eight months later.

Ponting is best known as the expedition photographer and cinematographer for this expedition. As a member of the shore party in early 1911, he helped set up their winter camp at Cape Evans, Ross Island. The camp included a tiny photographic darkroom and he captured some of the most enduring images of this heroic age of Antarctic exploration.

Others from the publisher include a memoir by World War Two Spitfire pilot Richard Hillary, the original account of the first British assault on Mount Everest, in 1922, written by C.G. Bruce, and the story of 1920s “Bentley Boy” racer Sir Henry Tim” Birkin, who lived life (1896-1933) as fast as he raced.

Daredevil say they do things the old-fashioned way, carefully hand-wrapping orders in brown paper and taking them to the Post Office as booksellers would have done 100 years ago.

Daredevil editions are available for purchase at www.daredevilbooks.co.uk

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