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UMSL alum, best-selling author’s book chronicling heyday of US auto industry ‘not a book about cars’

William Knoedelseder is the author of the new book, "Fins: Harley Earl, the Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit."

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, William Knoedelseder told host Don Marsh that when he decided to write a book about the rise of the American automotive industry, he, “tried to specifically make it not a book about cars.”

Rather, the University of Missouri-St. Louis alumnus and celebrated author wanted his newest biography, “Fins: Harley Earl, the Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit,” to paint a broader portrait of a moment in American history.

In addition to being a veteran entertainment journalist for the Los Angeles Times, Knoedelseder is responsible for the New York Times bestselling biography “Bitter Brews: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer.”

His new narrative focuses on Harley Earl, a character he dubbed, “the Steve Jobs of his time.”

On paper, Earl was the “eccentric, colorful, irascible” father of the Corvette and the man responsible for the iconic fins that adorn vintage cars.

However, his influence, according to Knoedelseder, is more potent than these achievements alone can demonstrate.

Gaining inspiration from Hollywood silent movie stars of the 1920s, Earl strove to develop a car that —unlike Henry Ford’s simple Model T— fueled Americans’ aspirations, through creative and innovative design.

Earl, said Knoedelseder, began developing a brand of automotive aesthetic markedly distinct from the design of cars being imported from Italy and Germany at the time.

“[Earl] changed the course of the industry … by asking the question, ‘What should an American car look like? What should it embody?’” he explained.

Related Event

What: Discussion and Book Signing with William Knoedelseder

When: Thursday, October 11 at 7 p.m.

Where: Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan, and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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