Life of Evel, by Stuart Barker

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Unusually for an American hero, Robert "Evel" Knievel is remembered less for his successes than his failures. The most notable of these was his 1974 attempt to leap the three-quarter-mile-wide Snake River Canyon in Idaho on a rocket-propelled motorcycle, but there was also the crash when trying to jump the fountain at Caesars Palace which left him in a coma for 29 days, and many more besides. A large part of his appeal was his refusal to quit – no matter how many broken bones, he got back on his bike when mended. But in other respects he was not so heroic, as this unflinching account acknowledges. A womaniser, alcoholic and gambler, by the late 1970s he seemed finished, but things picked up in the mid-1990s, when extreme sports enthusiasts lined up to pay homage to the daredevil who had blazed the trail. His stunt days were over, though, and by November last year so was his life, as the self-inflicted damage caught up with him at 69. But his ornery spirit lives on in this lively biography.

Published by HarperSport in paperback, £7.99