Michael Kranish is an investigative political reporter for . He is the coauthor of the bestseller, , and the author of and . He was the recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists Award for Washington Correspondence in 2016.
In the tradition of The Boys in the Boat and Seabiscuit, a fascinating portrait of a groundbreaking but forgotten figure—the remarkable Major Taylor, the black man who broke racial barriers by becoming the world’s fastest and most famous bicyclist at the height of the Jim Crow era. This is the story of the book by Michael Kranish, "The World's Fastest Man: The Extraordinary LIfe of Cyclist Major Taylor, America's First Black Sports Hero."
In the 1890s, the nation’s promise of equality had failed spectacularly. While slavery had ended with the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws still separated blacks from whites, and the excesses of the Gilded Age created an elite upper class. Amidst this world arrived Major Taylor, a young black man who wanted to compete in the nation’s most popular and mostly white man’s sport, cycling. Birdie Munger, a white cyclist who once was the world’s fastest man, declared that he could help turn the young black athlete into a champion.
Twelve years before boxer Jack Johnson and fifty years before baseball player Jackie Robinson, Taylor faced racism at nearly every turn—especially by whites who feared he would disprove their stereotypes of blacks. In The World’s Fastest Man, years in the writing, investigative journalist Michael Kranish reveals new information about Major Taylor based on a rare interview with his daughter and other never-before-uncovered details from Taylor’s life. Kranish shows how Taylor indeed became a world champion, traveled the world, was the toast of Paris, and was one of the most chronicled black men of his day.
From a moment in time just before the arrival of the automobile when bicycles were king, the populace was booming with immigrants, and enormous societal changes were about to take place, The World’s Fastest Man shines a light on a dramatic moment in American history—the gateway to the twentieth century.
Praise for The World's Fastest Man
"The World’s Fastest Man offers a fascinating ride... Kranish has done historians and fans a service by reminding us that such immortals as Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Serena Williams and Tiger Woods all followed in Major Taylor’s wake." - The Washington Post
"Restores the memory of one of the first black athletes to overcome the drag of racism and achieve national renown." -
“A sharp-eyed account of a nearly forgotten African-American sports legend.” —
“Both inspiring and heartbreaking, this is an essential contribution to sports history.” —
"A fantastic exploration of the life of an athlete who should be a household name." - The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"In this original, surprising, and important new book, Michael Kranish brings a man and an era back to vivid life. The story of Major Taylor—sportsman, bicyclist, pioneer—is in many ways the story of America. Through his speed and his grace, Taylor emerged as a critical figure that showed a world dominated by Jim Crow and abhorrent theories of innate racial disparities that the prevailing climate of opinion was as wrong as it could be.” —
“Michael Kranish has written an extraordinary book about an extraordinary figure whose place in American history could very easily have been lost to us all. But he does much more than illuminate the improbable story of a heroic black athlete. He throws open a window on a nearly forgotten version of America when a rising tide of hardship engulfed the lives of millions of black citizens, even as hope faintly glimmered. Major Taylor—a superstar at the zenith of his achievements—inspired both black and white Americans and became, too briefly, a last flicker of possibility for a 20th century in which ‘justice for all’ might still have become a reality. It is only through works like this that we can see just how much America lost when our society turned so completely down a path of total racial oppression in the 20th century. We also are reminded of the generations of black Americans whose talents and contributions to our national life were so cruelly suppressed. Major Taylor represents a very different America that could have been—a better one we sadly chose not to be.” ,
“Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson— the world recognizes the names of these trailblazers. Now, Michael Kranish shows that a new name should be added to the list. is a riveting account of the life of Major Taylor, the cyclist who was our country’s ‘First Black Sports Hero.’ Kranish brings Taylor’s story alive with vivid prose and extensive research. This not just a story about Taylor, it is a story about his times; when racial prejudice blighted the lives of millions of Americans, and made their journeys through life far more difficult than they should have been.”
Listen to Michael speak about The World's Fastest Man on NPR's Fresh Air
Listen to Michael's interview on NPR's Morning Edition