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Mick Doohan – Thunder From Down Under

Mick Doohan - Thunder From Down Under

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Review Summary
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By: Mat Oxley
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Haynes Publications, Second Edition
ISBN: 1859606350

It’s curious that several of these motorcycle racer biographies have exactly the same number of pages and use the same cookie-cutter format. I can just hear the editor: “Oy, Oxley – ya got 72 hours to fire off a standard ‘hundred-sixty pager on Mick Doohan!”

Some of them work, after a fashion, like “Valentino Rossi: Moto Genius”. Others, like “Colin Edwards – The Texas Tornado” aren’t as successful (mostly because Edwards has never lived up to his promise in MotoGP after his phenomenal, come from behind 2002 World Superbike Championship – remember that?).

Biographies are nowhere near as easy to write as many would think. The best biographies involve a laborious effort and ultra-hard work to reveal the inner person through exhaustive research. The reader ends up knowing how and why the subject thinks, acts, speaks in both their public and private lives by covering every facet and tying it together to paint an overwhelming and convincing picture.

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You want a good biography?  There are plenty: try Ian Kershaw’s incredible two-volume take on Adolf Hitler, or David McCullough’s excellent biography of Harry Truman, Stephen Ambrose’s bio of Dwight Eisenhower or even, believe it or not, Peter Guralnick’s incredible two-volume biography of Elvis Presley.  These are so good, you don’t even have to like the subject – like watching Bergman for the direction, they’re worth reading just so you can see what a good writer can do with subjects you normally don’t think twice about.

Of course, it’s not like a biography about a motorcycle racer has to be high art or something. But surely there’s something to learn from the best books of this genre?  I suppose motorcycle racers’ lives are too monochromatic to make good biographic subject matter. Oxley’s tome on Mick Doohan is a good example.

There’s way too much awe of Mick in this book and not nearly enough sober analysis about the why and how. Some of the hero worship is actually embarrassing to read. And in the end, we really don’t know Mick, we get very little on the horrendous accident that changed his life, and the impression we’re left with is of a beer-drinking Aussie party animal who doesn’t like to talk to the press.

Although the photos are very good, this book has rather soured me on motorcycle racer biographies – at least the quickies that are authored by print journalists who should be sticking to reporting the facts and not chasing a fast quid with a publisher (Haynes) who should focus on its shop manuals.

Sorry for the diatribe folks, and sorry Mick – maybe a writer will come along one day and do you justice.

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