The Harley-Davidson CenturyThe Harley-Davidson Century

The title says it all: The Harley-Davidson Century, edited by Darwin Holstrom, is about one of the only motorcycle manufacturers in the world to be in continuous production for a solid century — and then some.

In his introduction to the book, Brock Yates puts a finer point on it: “While American movie stars, Disney and Coca-Cola are headliner Yankee products, surveys indicate that when foreigners think of America, they identify products like Stetson hats, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Gibson guitars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles as the real thing, the heart and soul representatives of the good old USA.”

That statement re-frames the oft-told story of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. from being an American success story to being really being an international success story. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that in countries where high-tech superbikes are produced, it is the sight and sound of a Harley-Davidson that generates more excitement in front of a café than anything else.

As with other books about Harley-Davidson timed to hit bookstores about the time of the H-D Centennial in 2003, this one has many of the trademark features: number one, it is huge. It is 384 pages in length packed with historic and contemporary images of Harleys of every description. Twelve inches high by 10.75 inches across and an inch-and-a-quarter thick, and weighing in at about five pounds, this book is not what you might call light reading.

But The Harley-Davidson Century does something most other books don’t — it brings a lot of different voices to the story, including some of the most noted motojournalists around. For example, Herbert Wagner (a long-time H-D employee who wrote a book of his own about the brand), Jerry Hatfield (noted vintage motorcycle expert and author see more here), Mike Seate (reviewed here), Hunter S. Thompson through an excerpt from his book “Hell’s Angels” comprising a chapter (reviewed here), Allan Girdler (reviewed here), Peter Egan, (reviewed here), Kevin Cameron (reviewed here), and Greg Field (reviewed here).

This results in a book that is as entertaining and informative to read as it is to page through, just to look at the hundreds of photos contributed by some of the best photographers in the business such as Michael Lichter, David Dewhurst, Jeff Hackett and Nick Cedar, among others.

Organized in 11 chapters, it mainly follows the timeline of the emergence of each new engine: Flathead Era, Knucklehead Era, Panhead Era, and so on, with a chapter about the Hell’s Angels, the Sportster, Buell and the Future added in.

The book includes the inside story on the development of the Softail, a feature on Jim Feuling’s W3 150 cubic inch triple-cylinder bike, and a terrific chapter on racing penned by Allan Girdler.

Book Data:

  • Title: The Harley-Davidson Century
  • Author: Edited by Darwin Holstrom
  • Published: 2002, hard cover.
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc., by arrangement with Crestline, an imprint of MBI Publishing Co.
  • ISBN: 10-0-7607-8445-0

Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.