An Astonishing Book

An Astonishing Book

I can’t recall a book more crammed with incredible adventures, twists, and turns than the one I just finished, The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel, by Douglas Brunt. 

I had always thought of diesels as the noisy, clunky, dirty engines used mostly in European cars, and I’d never really wondered where the name came from or why the engines were used. 

As some of you may know, diesels were in fact named after Rudolf Diesel—one of the world’s great engineers and inventors, as famous at the beginning of the twentieth century as Thomas Edison, who by comparison was basically a rough tinkerer.

Most of the book is a compelling account of Diesel’s life, much of which was spent trying to realize his vision of a new type of quiet, clean-burning engine to replace the wasteful steam-powered engines then in use. 

He eventually succeeded, proud that the engine would run on vegetable and nut oils that could be grown locally in virtually any country. The engines were adopted in Germany, France, and England, three countries where Diesel had lived, and he had high hopes of sharing his invention in the American market. 

Enter John D. Rockefeller.

Rockefeller’s Standard Oil had suffered a terrible economic blow when Edison’s electric light bulbs supplanted oil-burning lamps, and he was determined to replace the lost income with earnings from another new engine, just invented by Nicolaus Otto, which ran on oil. Rockefeller succeeded, making sure that even diesel engines would use coal tar and other petroleum-based fuels.

Diesel, a peace-loving man, was horrified to see his diesel engines being used primarily for war, most dramatically and catastrophically in German U-boats. This development is what leads to the final, completely unexpected ending, in which the story takes an abrupt left-turn and never looks back.

Without giving it away, I’ll just say that on the eve of World War I, Diesel disappeared, apparently dying at sea. Was it an accident? suicide? murder, perhaps by the German military or agents of Rockefeller?

Author Douglas Brunt, through exhaustive research, has solved this 100-year-old mystery and presented the answer beyond doubt, as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Except instead of Holmes, the main character is none other than 39-year-old Winston Churchill, shown here years before World War II, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, head of the Royal Navy. 

I read the final chapters, my jaw on the floor. 

There is much more, but I don’t want to spoil your fun. I’ll just say you must read this book immediately.


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