All modern paratroop operations derive from Hitler's first large-scale battalions which were created for massive surprise against an enemy. The German paras were known as the Fallschirmjaeger, the ""hunters from the sky."" Worldwide, the paras have their mystique of a special toughness and fearlessness -- they fall, vulnerable to flak and strafing, onto God knows what cow, tree, roof, hole, or open space where they become perfect targets, and only then can they defend themselves. The first troopers (in 1935) were gung ho, shining fools, 24 officers and 800 men. And their first drop, into Holland in May of 1940, was an ironic tragedy. After heavy fighting they secured a surrender from the Dutch, only to find themselves dying in the middle of the totally unnecessary Luftwaffe leveling of Rotterdam. Hitler became passionately fond of his secret weapon, until they began losing. Whiting follows the entire story throughout World War II. The immense detail, despite grinding ironies and upbeat love for heroes of the silk, does make this history fairly special.