This is probably THE book for learning about the history of bicycle racing in the USA, but I am far from the first to say that. This book has been recommended to me many times.
Track was a huge spectator sport in the early years of cycling, and this book covers those days well. As time goes on, the book follows the sport as cycling fades in the USA and then rises with a stronger emphasis on road cycling. Still, track cycling plays a significant role in the return of cycling, and in this book. The time line extends from the earliest days of bicycle racing to Greg Lemond’s first Tour de France win.
I found that Hearts of Lions changes character a bit as it goes on. The early chapters are full of interesting detail, but they are less than exciting, perhaps because history has preserved dates, names, and prize amounts better than the human side of the stories. Still, this part of the book is interesting to any student of cycling.
Later in the book, the stories become richer, perhaps because the author was able to interview more actual riders from the post-World War II days, or at least people who were there. It is inspirational to read how a few dedicated riders carried on during the weakest years of American cycling, with almost no support, few serious competitors at home, and no help for those brave enough to attempt to break into European cycling. I especially enjoyed the story of Art Longsjo showing up for his first race in loafers and a t-shirt.
One of the enjoyable things in this book was reading about people and places who are still important in cycling today. If you are active in cycling (especially track) you have probably met or raced with people who are mentioned in this book, or their children. You may have ridden on some of the tracks mentioned later in the book, though the earliest velodromes have all been torn down.
I wish that there could be a second edition of this book, covering the last 20 years as well. If I could really have my wishes, I’d ask the new author to reduce the number of times a person or topic is introduced by mentioning some key event, and then dropping back in time without warning to give the background. Still, with or without that change I’d be eager to read a new version. It would almost have to be second edition rather than a new book, because it would be very difficult to cover this same material without simply imitating Hearts of Lions.
Conclusion: Get the book, read the book.
I can’t resist one quibble, which was annoying because it came right at the start of the book: Riding a mile in a minute is not the same kind of milestone as breaking the speed of sound in an airplane. A “mile-a-minute” is just an accident of units. Would anyone have considered 96.56 kilometers per hour a milestone? No. The speed of sound marks a fundamental change in the way air moves over an aircraft, with dramatic changes in lift, drag, and temperature. It’s a real thing, which doesn’t depend on what system of units you use.