The Age of Daredevils

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This is the most exciting book that has ever put me to sleep. At first glance, that might seem like an attention-grabbing comment meant to lure you into reading more of this blog post. My own feelings toward the book The Age of Daredevils are more complicated, though.

The Age of Daredevils by Michael Clarkson
The Age of Daredevils by Michael Clarkson

Clarkson’s book details the stories of the daredevils who took trips over Niagara Falls or in the rapids below. He primarily focuses in on the Hill family, who lived on the Canada side of the falls and were present at and participating in many of these stunts. He carefully describes the tension felt at each of these events, including the emotions of the daredevil and the crowd.

“Could his life be better? Sure, and it will be, but he has to remind himself he has already lived other people’s dreams, and today they have turned out in the tens of thousands just to watch him live them out, and others have come to visit the dark part of their soul that wants to see a man snap his spine.”

Michael Clarkson

I was often inspired by the heroics and the humanity of Red Hill Sr., a so-called “river man” who fished bodies from suicides and accidents out of the river below Niagara Falls. He worked hard, though sometimes doing illegal things, to provide for his large family. However, the falls and the stunts of daredevils on them always called him (much to his wife’s dismay). After his passing, several of his sons would go on to try stunts on the falls and the rapids below. His son, Red Hill Jr., would die in an accident on the falls, crushing the family and encouraging police to enforce daredevil laws more closely.

My Favorite Daredevil Story

I loved reading about Annie Taylor and her adventure going over Niagara Falls. She was not only the first person to go over the Falls and survive, but she was a women who did so in a time when women we not even allowed to vote. Before her stunt, the news openly mocked her for her foolishness. However, afterwards she was celebrated. Although her life ended many years later in poverty, this stunt brought her some amount of fortune and notoriety.

Why This Book Made Me Sleep

I have had a very difficult time pinpointing exactly why I had a difficult time reading this book. The stories were enjoyable. Clarkson’s writing style was sharp and easy-to-read. When I think about the book, I even think of it fondly and would recommend it to other people.

However, I fell asleep while reading it. It wasn’t a book that made me want to fight sleep and stay up all night reading. In fact, I fell asleep while reading this book several times, even when I wasn’t especially tired. While I am not especially sure what the reason is that I struggled with this book, I think the fact that it was so detailed about such a large period of time with so many different people has something to do with it. When there are that many details, it is harder to keep up with and makes my mind tired.

While I know it’s a strange personal preference, I also like shorter chapters because they make me want to read the next chapter (since it’s such a manageable size). This book did not deliver that for me with its long chapters that covered long chunks of history that included lots of names, dates, and places.

A Good History Text

Despite these feelings, though, I believe that if I were in school and had to read this as a history text on some of the culture surrounding Niagara Falls, I would be thrilled. It is an interesting history text. However, as a book to read for pleasure, it was harder to read because of the amount of concentration it required.

Quick Review

The Age of Daredevils was a very well-written book. Michael Clarkson did an excellent job giving the reader a feel for the overall history of the daredevils who went over Niagara Falls. However, my preference for more narrowly-focused histories (biographies and memoirs) kept me from enjoying it to the fullest. Although necessary to tell the story, having such a large number of names, dates, and places made it harder for me to keep my mind engaged. Despite this personal bias (I admit it!), I do wholeheartedly recommend this interesting book.

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