Book Review: Road to Valor by Aili & Andres McConnon

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Road to Valor is the story of one of the many unsung and unremembered heroes of World War II. Gino Bartali was a prewar Italian racing champion and winner of the Tour de France.   Just about everyone has heard of Oskar Schindler and his List due to the 1993 Spielberg movie or Anne Frank.   What is less known are the thousands of others across occupied Europe that worked trying to help Jews and others that the Nazi’s persecuted.   This book is the story of one of those people.

The book is not overly lengthy at 257 pages but covers the story well.   One of the things that impressed me the most about the book was that while it is not a strictly scholarly work it is extensively endnoted and their are over 40 pages of source notes at the end of the book.   The one thing this book lacks is an index to make it easier to find key passages and figures from the book.   Price is not prohibitive either, the hardcover has an MSRP of $25, which is well within normal for such a work.   The paper quality and printing are above typical to my eyes as well, this is book that will remain in good condition for years, if not decades.

This book is essentially the story of his life with the main events between his twin wins of the Tour de France in 1938 and ten years later in 1948. The valor part of the the title of this book comes from it’s recounting of Gino’s efforts to aid Italian Jews during the Nazi occupation of Italy after the Italian capitulation in 1943.   The long and short of it is that Gino used his fame from cycling to help resistance groups and the Catholic church in their efforts to shelter Italian Jews.   Because of his position and fame he was uniquely able to serve as a courier and even managed to get out of detention by the Italian Fascists secret police.

Gino’s story is not only a story of courage, it is also the story of a life interrupted by war.   Gino Bartali lost what should have been the best years of his racing career due to WWII.   He won the Tour de France in 1938 and came back post-war to win it again in 1948.   The most interesting part of his life story is the way in which he used his fame and notoriety to help save some of the Jews of Northern Italy from persecution.

Although biographies are not the type of books, historical or otherwise, that I normally read.   I found Road to Valor to be easy to read and the narrative was well constructed.   The writing is very well done with none of the stiffness I normally associate with biographies.   This is an excellent biography at a wartime figure who achieved great things outside of World War II and I recommend it to anybody with an interest in World War II or the Holocaust and the way in which average Europeans cooperated to keep their neighbors out of the hands of the Nazi death machine.