A first-rate, readable history of the air war over North Vietnam. Grant puts living flesh on historical bones through exceptionally candid interviews with the pilots who flew through heavy antiaircraft fire--and their terrible, sometimes debilitating fear. Covered are three subjects: the air war as a political tool, seen through the debates among high officials in Washington; the nuts and bolts of mounting intense air strikes, seen through the difficulties of operating the carrier Oriskany; finally, the fliers' accounts of their personal lives and their fears of capture or death. As a correspondent in Vietnam, Grant visited the Oriskany several times and gained the confidence of the pilots. In his research, he traced many of them to civilian retirement, and used his wartime notes to refresh their dimming memories of specific incidents and gained from them new perspectives on the meaning of those incidents. The detailed descriptions of the unbelievable physical force and the danger of aircraft and pilot launching from a carrier are finely wrought, some of the best such depictions to be found anywhere. Grant's evocation of the terrors involved in trying to land on the heaving deck of a carrier at night is gripping. The interviews are poignant as the pilots describe their family problems, their sexual exploits while on leave, their desperate drinking bouts, their relationships with each other, Navy politics and the technicalities of how they carried out their missions. The book includes some surprising statistics on the skill of the enemy pilots, who shot down an unexpected number of US planes. There are affecting reports, too, on what it meant to be a prisoner in Hanoi. History as it should be: well-rounded, human, understandable, exciting and moving.