Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review of Winston Groom's The Aviators


It takes a very skilled writer to accomplish what Winston Groom has done in The Aviators. He weaves the tales of Rickenbacker, Doolittle, and Lindbergh into seamless whole.

It’s a great book, filled with fascinating stories of perhaps the three most fascinating characters in the history of aviation, outside of the Wright brothers themselves. Groom tracks all three characters in a fairly tight chronology, writing a virtual biography of each man. The most confusing feature of the book for me will probably be the favorite feature for other readers: the accounts of the three are intertwined at the chapter level. This chapter might be devoted (wholly) to Lindbergh, the next chapter to Doolittle, and so on. It definitely holds your interest. But the net effect for me as a reader was that—other than the single major event that defined their lives (Rickenbacker: WWI ace; Lindbergh: first cross-Atlantic flight; Doolittle: the 1942 raid on Tokyo)—I became confused as to who did what. The three tales converge in World War 2, as each man has something of significance to contribute to the war effort.

Groom’s writing style is excellent. Rather than projecting the cold distance of the academician, the writing is warm and accessible, more of a story-telling format. The book is meticulously footnoted, and Groom does an good job of presenting both sides of points that are in dispute among historians. He’s not afraid to render his own ideas on the matter, even when disputing a majority opinion.

In a nice touch Groom takes each man’s story all the way to their death, and then writes a clear-eyed retrospective on their lives.

If you are researching the early days of aviation, or are merely fascinated by its history, this book is a must-read. Five stars.