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    Review of TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT by Victor Appleton


    Grosset & Dunlap, 1910

    Intrigued by the power of electricity, young inventor Tom Swift decides to create an electric car that will be faster than his arch-rival, Andy Foger's gasolene car--one, in fact, that can reach a hundred miles an hour and achieve five hundred miles on a single battery charge. Tom must also invent a new type of battery to do so--one that holds a high charge, can be recharged from local streetcar lines, and will recharge much more quickly than the other electrical cars of the time (or of today).

    Tom's mechanical challenges would be enough to stump most inventors, but they are only a part of what Tom must face. His arch-enemy, Foger, has joined the Deep Forest Gang--a Ku Klux Klan-like organization that intends to terrorize the neighborhood and that is quick to capture Tom and threaten to tar and feather him. Finally, Foger's father has left the local bank and is setting up his own. Bankrupting the old bank will embarass and possibly ruin Tom's father, the aging inventor Barton Swift--who not only has his fortune invested with the bank but is a member of the board of directors.

    Fortunately, a speedy car is exactly what is required to handle money transfers--and continue Tom's quest to gain the heart of the pretty Miss Mary Nestor.

    As with the earlier books in the Tom Swift series, TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT reflects a very different society than we face today. Tom's black friend, Eradicate, is said to have been at a 'colored dance,' and the KKK-like organization seems to function without much official hinderance. From a business perspective, the very real fear that a 'run on the bank' could destroy a financially solid bank points to one of the key advances of the New Deal--which would come a generation later. At that time, banking panics were fairly common. Today, they are unthinkable as the Federal Reserve System and the FDIC would provide the liquidity that Tom, and his electric car, barely managed.

    Sadly, unlike the submarine, airship, motorboat, or motorbike of Tom's earlier books, the electric car is still a work in progress-a century later. Come on, Tom, dust off those old battery designs and let's get some electric cars on the road. Five hundred miles at a charge sounds perfect to me, and a top speed of a hundred miles an hour will do the trick.

    Author Victor Appleton (see more reviews of novels by Appleton) seems to be getting the writing down a bit and this story is less clunky than some of the earlier ones. Young readers, in particular, will find the action exciting, while older readers will enjoy the contrast between the society in which Tom created his inventions and our own. Certainly those looking for an ideal world of the past won't find it depicted in these stories, nor, I think, would they find it in any real place.

    See more reviews of novels by Victor Appleton.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 10/08/06

    TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIRSHIP is available for FREE.

    What do you think? Too generous? Too stingy? Or did I miss the entire point? Send your comments to Give me the okay to use your name and I'll publish all the comments that fit (and don't use unprintable language).

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