Reviews

[This review was commissioned by the Michigan War Studies Review back in 2016, but for some reason never got published. As MiWSR is now, sadly, defunct, I guess there's no harm in putting it up here on Airminded.]

James Hamilton-Paterson. Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. New York: Pegasus Books, 2016.

Vanishingly few aviation historians can boast a glowing cover endorsement from the likes of J.G. Ballard. James Hamilton-Paterson can; Ballard loved ‘his elegant and intensely evocative style: strangeness lifts off his pages like a rare perfume’. While Ballard had his own obsessions with aviation, he was presumably not writing of Marked for Death, published eight years after his death, but about Hamilton-Paterson’s earlier, more earthbound output. After a long and successful literary career, Hamilton-Paterson has turned to the history of flight for inspiration: first in Empire of the Clouds, the compelling and critical story of Britain’s attempt to keep to the forefront of aviation in the jet age, then in a fictionalised account of a Vulcan bomber crew at the height of the Cold War, Under the Radar.[1] In Marked for Death he has attempted something more ambitious: a history of ‘The First War in the Air’.

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Cover of Jonathan F. Vance, High Flight: Aviation and the Canadian Imagination

2023 will mark 120 years since the first controlled heavier than air flight, and 240 years since the first more or less controlled lighter than air flight. Much more importantly, it's also the year in which I am going to get my ever-growing stack of to-be-read aviation history books under control! I can't promise that I will only read aviation history books this year, but I will mostly. And in the spirit of accountability (as well as content generation), I'm going to list and reflect on what I read here on Airminded (apart from what I'm reading for strictly research purposes, anyway). Starting now...

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Wreck of the Hindenburg

Alexander Rose. Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World. New York: Random House, 2020.

The two men of the title both led a great aviation enterprise. Both dreamed of spanning the world with their passenger aircraft. Both struggled at times, and prospered at others. But one was outlived by his company, while the other died knowing that his life's work had been reduced to ashes. The former was Juan Terry Trippe, the head of Pan American Airways (PAA; better known as Pan Am) from 1927 to 1968; the latter, Hugo Eckener, who ran Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and DELAG, the Zeppelin airline, after the death of Count Zeppelin in 1917.1 Both wanted to span the world's continents and oceans by air: Trippe championed aeroplanes as the best way to do this; Eckener, obviously, airships. We all know how that turned out, but well-known stories are often worth revisiting because, well, you don't always know what you thought you did. And so Alexander Rose -- who is perhaps best known as the author of Washington's Spies, which was turned into a successful television series, but wrote his PhD on British air defence policy in the 1930s -- has written a thoroughly researched, fully referenced, hugely informative and compellingly readable account of the struggle for the future of civil aviation.
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  1. Citing a newspaper obituary, Wikipedia claims that Trippe got his first name from 'the Venezuelan wife of his great uncle'. But according to Rose he was actually named after his mother's stepfather, Juan Terry, a Venezuelan millionaire. Trippe hated his name and his non-WASP family connections; the fact that PAA's empire began in Latin America was a coincidence. []