Andre Citroen: The Man and the Motor Cars

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9780312165055: Andre Citroen: The Man and the Motor Cars
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This illustrated biography reviews Citroen's life and work and catalogues the cars he produced, in order to restore his reputation as one of the most progressive and imaginative characters in the history of the motor car.
The book recalls his privileged childhood as the son of a prosperous Jewish immigrant in Paris during the late nineteenth century and describes his education at the elite Ecole Polytechnique. It records the start of his meteoric career, which began with the manufacture of helical gears (the inspiration for the famous Citroen double-chevron badge), and continued with the production of munitions during the First World War. It goes on to chronicle his prodigious accomplishments as a motor-magnate in the 1920s when he was responsible for the first mass-produced and mass-marketed vehicles in Europe, a feat of industrial creativity that earned him his reputation as the Henry Ford of France. His story comes to a sad end in the Great Depression of the mid-1930s when, just after the launch of his most famous model, the revolutionary Traction Avant, his company went bankrupt and he died.
This first published account of Andre Citroen's life and work to be available in English gives a fascinating insight into his complex character, and goes some way towards explaining his extraordinary success and failure. It shows how his mastery of salesmanship and publicity, combined with his love of risk-taking, made him an international celebrity whose adventurous business policies and extravagant way of life consistently created headline news. The book also provides a series of vivid snapshots of the momentous times in which he lived, from the belle epoque and the First World War through the roaring twenties to the wasted years of the 1930s, when his ideals of social and economic progress through international cooperation were destroyed, as he himself was, by the Depression and the rise of fascism.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

An uncritical biography of one of France's premier automakers, from a British journalist who takes a far greater interest in machines than in men or women. Drawing on archival and secondary sources, Reynolds offers a cursory rundown on his subject's life and times. The son of a Jewish diamond merchant who had moved to Paris from Amsterdam, Citro n graduated from the prestigious cole Polytechnique in 1900 at the age of 22. Having fulfilled his military service, young Andr began manufacturing gearwheels, a high-tech enterprise in which he fared well. After WW I (during which he established and ran an important munitions factory for the government), Citro n built the first of many motor cars bearing his name. A technocrat rather than a practical engineer in the mold of his acquaintance Henry Ford, he was at least as concerned with developing mass consumer markets and volume-production techniques as with advancing the state of the automotive art. His eponymous company nonetheless created half-track vehicles that proved their mettle on showcase expeditions through Africa, Antarctica, Central Asia, and other exacting venues. It also rolled out the Traction Avant, a breakthrough design notable for such forward-looking features as an automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and hydraulic brakes. Although the firm and its founder appeared to prosper during the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression took a severe toll. Creditors (led by Michelin) gained control of Automobiles Citro n in 1935, the same year its erstwhile patron died of stomach cancer. While an English-language account of Citro n's accomplishments and failures is long overdue, freelance automotive journalist Reynolds misses his opportunity. Among other shortcomings, the tech-talk narrative devotes so little attention to matters of business and character that the company's precipitous fall from financial grace will come as a real shock to readers unfamiliar with the bon vivant proprietor's willingness to run immense risks. Flat and unrevealing. (b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

A graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, France's most prestigious engineering college, Citroen (1878-1935), from a well-to-do Jewish family, was a hugely successful entrepreneur. His background enabled him to recognize the value of double-helical gears produced in Poland, sleeve-valve engines made in Belgium and mass-production methods developed in the U.S., a country with which he felt a special affinity. Large-scale industrial production, notes the author, "was the engineering challenge that really interested" Citroen. Always an innovator, he began direct-mail marketing, billboards and skywriting ads in France, so that by the early 1930s, Citroen was the fourth-largest automobile manufacturer in the world, after America's big three. A cultivated sophisticate fond of good living and gambling, Citroen overextended himself during the Depression, demonstrates Reynolds in his well-documented, instructive biography, lost control of his firm and died soon afterward. This biography is not just for car lovers but has much to say about the effects of industrial growth in the West and, even more interesting, about the role that subtle anti-Semitism may have played in the demise of Automobiles Citroen. Reynolds is a British freelance writer.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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