“The Death of Ayrton Senna” (Richard Williams, 1999)

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You can’t walk into a bookshop without tripping over a biography of Ayrton Senna – partly because there’s so many of them, and partly because most are exercises in quantity over quality.

It’s ironic that this book by Guardian journalist Richard Williams, just 200 pages or so in length, is one of the best biographies of the legendary Brazilian.

Never judge a book by its title. “The Death of Ayrton Senna” may have the hollow ring of a cash-in, but the depth and nuance of the content is far better than that, and not as preoccupied with the death of the champion as the title might suggest.

Rather than serving up every last tiny little factoid about Senna’s existence, Williams sews together Senna’s achievements in the cockpit, his memorable words outside it, and Williams’ own illuminating perspectives, into a seamless narrative.

The best biographies are those that reveal those precious, telling moments that reflect all the myriad, often conflicting impulses at work in a person.

“The Death of Ayrton Senna” has exactly the kind of balanced, detailed perspective on Senna that most works on him lack.

This revised paperback edition (published in 1999) includes further detail on the agonisingly drawn out trial that followed his death.

It’s also unhesitatingly honest in a way none of the other biographies seem to be. Senna not only had flaws, but Williams even has the forthrightness to point out that his upbringing could scarcely have been better for a person wishing to become a racing driver.

Williams takes no cheap shots, but he’s not afraid of puncturing myths. Rather like his excellent biography of Enzo Ferrari, he doesn’t buy into the Senna cult. “The Death of Ayrton Senna” is an unmissable book because of it.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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4 comments on ““The Death of Ayrton Senna” (Richard Williams, 1999)”

  1. i know it’s 4 years after you posted this, but i just read this book last month and it’s fantastic.

    I never wanted to buy a book about senna because i thought the weren’t completely objective. Then i recently thought (again after along while) about looking for a good book about Senna (because there had to be one), and decided to buy this one.

    Only thing i can say is the following: written without looking through rose-tinted glasses. Absolutely fantastic. If you want to read about the good and bad of one of the greatest drivers ever pick this one up!

  2. I agree with the comment above. I just bought the book recently and thought it was excellent. Has anyone seen the new film about Ayrton Senna yet? I believe it’s had good reviews?

    1. It was reviewed here in December:

      “Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

      More features coming up on it ahead of its UK release next month.

  3. I just finished reading this a few days ago and I have to disagree to an extent. It is a great read and is incredibly well written. The opening section in particular made me feel strangely emotional, not good on the train ride to work!

    But there are parts that do deify Senna to an extent…but hey I guess we are all guilty of that sometimes.

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