A historic flight recounted in vivid detail.
Fighter pilot and aviation historian Hampton (The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels, the Band of Maverick Aviators Who Flew the Most Dangerous Missions of the Vietnam War, 2015, etc.) follows Charles Lindbergh’s (1902-1974) thrilling 33-hour flight from New York to Paris, the first solo trip across the Atlantic. When he took off on May 20, 1927, he knew that past efforts had failed, but the young man, who had been a mail delivery pilot, was undaunted. Lindbergh had aspired to become a pilot since childhood: in 1912, accompanying his parents to the Army Aeronautical Trials, he felt “electrified” by flight displays. “I used to imagine myself with wings,” he said, “on which I could swoop down off our roof into the valley, soaring through the air from one river bank to the other.” Hampton portrays Lindbergh as a mediocre student with little interest in world, or even family, affairs: he ignored his father’s career failings, his parents’ estrangement, and political turmoil in the U.S. and abroad. He focused instead on flying, which is the author’s focus, as well. Although he sets the trans-Atlantic feat in the context of post–World War I America, the strongest parts of the book offer a cockpit’s-eye view of the flight. This you-are-there perspective effectively evokes the tension, risk, and skill involved, from the moment Lindbergh settles into his wicker seat, takes off from Roosevelt Field, crosses the coast of Newfoundland, and soars alone into the night above the roiling sea. Storms, fog, wind, clouds, and ice threaten him; he is beset by fatigue and roused by extreme cold and fear. Hampton’s use of technical terms, explained in a glossary, does not detract from his brisk narrative. Overwhelmed by cheering crowds in Paris and the U.S., the shy Lindbergh was disconcerted to find that he had become a hero. Hampton only briefly summarizes his later career and controversial political views, including some accusations of anti-Semitism.
A celebration of a heroic feat sure to interest fans of aviation history.