If you've watched Le Mans enough that you can recite the dialogue and your heart rate spikes before every crash sequence, then this is probably the book for you.
Go Like Hell is A.J. Baime's history of the war between the upstart Ford and the dominant Ferrari in the 1960s. Most car people will know something of this, if only from Le Mans. But as Baime (the executive editor of Playboy and a very good writer) tells it, it was more than just the quest for speed — it was a clash of ethos and of egos. Ferrari was the master of the V-12; Ford shoehorned at 427 into the Mark II to win. Where Enzo Ferrari was a slave to routine and reclusive, Carroll Shelby was an outsized character. Where Ken Surtees were ebullient, Phil Hill was introspective.
Go Like Hell tells this story with an incredible wealth of detail and a sharp eye for significant anecdotes. Baime draws strong portraits of the corporate lions like Ferrari, Henry Ford II, and Lee Iaccoca, but he doesn't limit himself to the recognizable names. Perhaps the most affecting part of the book is the story of Ken Miles, a former tank commander who became a small-time racer and mechanic who found himself a key part of the Shelby American team at the unlikely age of 47. Miles was at the centre of the 1966 Le Mans effort. Ford owned the podium in that race. The archenemy from Maranello was humiliated, with its top finisher a GT car 50 laps down. But Miles was to be robbed of glory by a failed attempt by the Ford team to have its cars — one driven by Miles and Denny Hulme and another by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon — tie in an blatant statement of Ford's dominance.
Mere months after the 1966 24 Hours, Miles was dead in a testing accident. But Baime treats him with deep respect and admiration. In fact, Baime treats all of the characters in Go Like Hell with respect, as flawed people who make mistakes and experience failures and successes.
Baime begins the book with a vivid portrait of the Levegh accident at Le Mans in 1955, and For people who read the book who aren't familiar with the racing world of that time, perhaps the most shocking thing is the death toll listed in the book.
And if you're a total geek, the 23 pages of source notes and the quite well-done index at the back of the book will have you digging up other things to read and experience.
Go Like Hell is a book by someone who can write like hell. Grab it from your library or bookstore.
Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and their battle for speed and glory at Le Mans, by A.J. Baime. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-618-82219-5.