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Engines & Enterprise – The Life and Work of Sir Harry Ricardo

(2nd Edition) by John Reynolds, published by Haynes. £25.00.  ISBN 978 1 84425 516 0.

2008 Review by Malcolm Jeal.

Harry Ricardo was a key figure in the development of the internal combustion engine and the sub-title is apposite since John Reynolds deals with both facets of the story with commendable lucidity and erudition. Without doubt, this book is a ‘good read’. The following quote tells us much about Ricardo the man: “As a consultant he was accustomed to obscurity and quite content to work out of the limelight, avoiding publicity altogether. All forms of boastfulness and self-advertisement were an anathema to him, and he sought only to win the respect of other professional engineers in the quiet confines of the Royal Aeronautical Society, [and] the Institution of Mechanical Engineers…” Win the respect of others he did, and there are fascinating insights into the decision-making process in industry both in times of war and peace.

Furthermore, one learns how sceptics were won over by Ricardo’s expertise and enthusiasm, and above all by his personal integrity and that of the business that he founded in 1915, Engine Patents Ltd; which today continues his work as Ricardo plc. As the author reaches the conclusion of his work, he observes: “Such is the pace of change in the automobile engineering industry these days that all too often the study of history is regarded as having no relevance to the present, much less to the future. But as this book will surely have demonstrated, Sir Harry Ricardo knew otherwise. Together with his colleagues and associates, the very internal combustion engine pioneers who made history by bringing about the progress in transportation that has transformed the world over the past one hundred years, he valued the lessons of the past and, while always facing forward eagerly to meet the challenges ahead, he constantly strove to work within a tradition of historical continuity.”

The First Edition (published in 1999) was by any criteria a good book, this revised and expanded Second Edition is a very good book. Hopefully it will be read not only by motoring and aviation enthusiasts, but also by a far wider audience.


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