Robert Daley (Target Blue, Prince of the City) got the biggest story in commercial aviation at a price--not editorial control, but a percentage of the take. And, amusingly, it figures: during the 40-odd years that Juan Trippe built Pan Am from a 90-mile Florida mail run into a global presence, nothing helped him more--not his rich Yale friends or his ""astonishing foresight"" or his shameless tenacity--than his genius for raising vast sums of money from paper. With unprecedented access to Trippe and his archives, Daley has written a crackling narrative, vividly peopled, precise, and nonjudgmental. (But on the issues he doesn't waffle.) He begins and ends, cinematically, on tiny Wake Island in the mid-Pacific--once unknown, now abandoned, briefly a world-celebrated way station: a metaphor, of course, for now-foundering Pan Am. And ""discovered,"" Daley tells us, by Juan Trippe on a map in the New York Public Library: in the 3,000 miles between Midway and Guam, Trippe was convinced, there had to be some place for his Manila-bound flying boats to refuel. He had already snagged the prime South American routes--who else could offer Lindbergh at the controls of the first flight? and did the Post Office want ""a lot of foreigners"" to get a foothold? But ultimately even that ace-in-the-hole argument, that perennial appeal for Pan Am to carry the flag, didn't avail. After Trippe had pushed Pan Am's service to mainland Asia and the Antipodes (cagily outflanking the British in both instances), after he'd schemed and bargained his way across the Atlantic (and maneuvered Boeing into building him a suitable--but unsafe--plane), after he'd won entree to Africa (by providing wartime services to the Allies) and had in hand the funds to secure ""total domination"" of the airways, Trippe was blocked--denied domestic routes while the domestic lines won routes overseas. Daley didn't (perhaps couldn't) get Trippe's reaction to this double defeat; and indeed Trippe pressed on--to be the first, as always, into the Jet Age. But if the reader feels thwarted, it's only because Daley follows through again and again--with graphic accounts of premiere flights (thanks to Betty Trippe's diaries), with insider anecdotes (featuring, most notably, Joe Kennedy, Churchill, and Chiang), with what-finally-happened-to Trippe's oldest, most trusted aides. Far and away the most on the subject, and totally absorbing.