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China's Wings: War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight Hardcover – Illustrated, February 28, 2012


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China's Wings: War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight + An Airline at War: The Story of China National Aviation Corporation and its Men + Forgotten Aviator: The Adventures of Royal Leonard
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; First Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553804278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553804270
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gregory Crouch on China's Wings

The seed that became China's Wings was planted by Charlie Fowler, one of my climbing partners in Enduring Patagonia, the book I'd written about my mountain adventures in that extreme land. Charlie's other adventuring obsession was unclimbed peaks in Central Asia, and back from explorations along the Tibet/China frontier in early 2002, Charlie sent me an email: "Greg, I keep hearing stories of these old World War II American plane wrecks in the Eastern Himalaya. You're a military history guy and a mountaineer; you should spark up a story on that."

I recognized the genesis of a good idea, and as a lifetime WWII history buff, I guessed those wrecks were probably relics of the airlift from India to China the United States prosecuted over the mountains dropping down the border between Burma and China's Yunnan province--the infamous "Hump." However, I was in Oman on a National Geographic assignment at the time. I didn't get around to pursuing Charlie's lead until months later.

When I did, "flying the Hump" web searches quickly ran across the cnac.org website--an enthusiast's collection of stories, events, and people related to the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), a civil airline partnership between Pan American Airways and the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek that flew and fought in China from 1929-1949. I knew many of the tales orbiting CNAC's story--among them Pan Am's pioneering transpacific flights, the Flying Tigers, and the Hump airlift--but I'd never heard of the airline that seemed to have played such a pivotal role in those events.

I stumbled across the website's reunions page and noticed that CNAC had a reunion scheduled only three weeks later, and that it was in San Francisco, less than twenty miles from my desk. Tentatively, I picked up the telephone and called CNAC Association President Bill Maher, one of the airline's Hump pilots. I introduced myself, explained that I wanted to explore the possibility of writing a book about his airline, and asked if I could attend the reunion. "Hell yes!" Bill thundered. "Come on over. We've got great stories."

I attended, and Bill was right. He and his flying band of brothers oozed fascinating stories and outrageous adventures played out against the desperate background of the war in Asia. I was hooked. Driving away from the reunion three days later, I was physically shaking, convinced I'd discovered an untold, compelling, and significant story--one I was meant to tell.

I never did succeed in mounting an expedition to visit a World War II plane wreck in the remote mountains of Asia--although I still hold out hope that someday I might--but the years of research that followed proved the story of the China National Aviation Corporation to be richer, deeper, and more historically significant than I'd dared hope; and in William Langhorne Bond, the steady, mannerly, but sharp-elbowed Virginian whose endeavors did so much to propel the airline through two trying decades, I'd discovered the perfect protagonist to carry the story. I spent dozens of hours with Moon Fun Chin, a remarkable man born in an obscure South China village in 1913 who began flying for CNAC in the early 1930s, piloted the last evacuation flights from Hankow in 1938 and Hong Kong in December, 1941, amassed many thousands of flying hours with the company through its years on the Hump (including taking Tokyo raider Jimmy Doolittle out of China in 1942), and ended up owning his own airline after the war. Through contemporary letters, books, articles, and interviews, China's Wings took me through the breathtaking, deadly Yangtze Gorges in the early 1930s, provided an inside account of the development of Pan American's groundbreaking transpacific route, bore witness to the utter destruction of Shanghai in a colossal--and largely forgotten--battle fought after the Japanese invaded China in 1937, and to mind-boggling mechanical improvisations, the mass evacuations of cities like Hankow and Hong Kong as they fell to the invaders, pivotal meetings in the boardrooms of Pan American Airways and the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and tense, fear-choked moments in cockpits over the Hump. The story of William Bond and the China National Aviation Corporation proved the perfect lens through which to experience the U.S. relationship with China during the crux decades of the Twentieth Century.

Sadly, neither Bill Maher nor Charlie Fowler can enjoy the fruits of their assistance; Bill Maher passed away in the summer of 2011, and Charlie was killed by an avalanche in China in 2006. I will always be grateful to them for their friendship and for this story.


Review

Advance praise for China’s Wings
 
“Too many people think the war in the Pacific began with Japan’s sudden strike on Hawaii, launched seemingly out of nowhere. Crouch’s vividly written book explains how America’s business interests in 1930s China set it on the path to Pearl Harbor. This is the rousing story of the enterprising Pan Am pilots who built a frontier airline and went on to become aviation heroes, flying over the Himalayas, helping save China, and thereby transforming the world.”—James D. Hornfischer, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Neptune’s Inferno
 
“Dramatically rendered.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“In China’s Wings, Gregory Crouch recalls the remarkable encounter between an ancient civilization and the most modern technology in the world, as intrepid Americans and their Chinese partners struggled to establish a sophisticated air network over a vast land that barely knew electricity. This gripping book will transport you to a fascinating lost time.”—James Bradley, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers and The Imperial Cruise
 
“West Point grad Crouch brings us a story that’s part adventure, part unearthed history [and] not just for history buffs.”—Library Journal


More About the Author

Gregory Crouch is an author who specializes in adventurous and historic subjects. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he studied military history. He completed U.S. Army Airborne and Ranger Schools, and led his infantry platoon in combat in Panama, where he earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge. Crouch left the Army in the post-Gulf War downsizing in order to pursue his passions for rock, ice, and alpine climbing, and he developed a particular fascination with the majestic peaks of Patagonia. Along the way he became a writer. His work has appeared in National Geographic ("Stone Cold Ascent," March of 2000, and "The Caves of Oman," April of 2003), National Geographic Adventure, American History, Outside, Climbing (where he has been a senior contributing editor), and many others. Crouch's book, Enduring Patagonia (Random House, 2001) was selected for the Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" program. His most recent book is the previously untold World War II flying adventure China's Wings: War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight (Bantam, 2012). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Customer Reviews

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Well, this is one of those books that you can't stop reading.
Ana Siqueira
China's Wings will be of interest not just to aviation history buffs, WWII buffs, or history majors, it's a book that anybody who likes an adventure story will enjoy.
Kathryn Townsend
Gregory Crouch's well written, researched, and very read able treatise on the China National Aviation Corporation or (CNAC) is excellent.
Jamie Dodson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Tina Rath on February 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I would not call myself a scholar of WWII, nor do I have a super keen interest in aviation history or this particular time period in China, but I can say that Crouch's superb storytelling abilities transported me right into the heart of the story. With fascinationg characters, like William Langhorn Bond, who is an increasingly rare breed of a man that we need more of today, the daring and out right bravery of pilots like Moon Chin, and a country striving for unity in the face of Japanese aggression, this book is one great read. It will more than satisfy the scholar as Crouch's research is impeccible and extensive, but for the average reader, you will not get bogged down in a zillion facts and figures. From the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai in the 30's to the dangerous airlift known as "the Hump", this is history told in its finest, as a captivating story with events that you just can't make up.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn Townsend on February 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Topically, China's Wings is the story of China National Air Corporation, and the role it played in the development of China immediately prior to and during WWII. But that is not really what the book is about. The book is about ordinary people who found themselves in an extraordinary situation, and became extraordinary people. Crouch's narration is so vivid, his characterizations so skillfully drafted, the real life plot so compelling, that at times it is hard to remember that what you're reading is non-fiction. Given how impeccable Crouch's research is and how well documented the book is, the fact that it never reads like a scholarly treatise is, in itself, worth noting. China's Wings will be of interest not just to aviation history buffs, WWII buffs, or history majors, it's a book that anybody who likes an adventure story will enjoy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By steph davis on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm an airplane fanatic, but not a reader of war history. This book straddles the divide between history buffs and those who like stories that happen to be true. Incredibly well researched, China's Wings reads like a very erudite novel, thanks to the focus on characters and wild tales (like Elmer the bear who rode in the cockpit across the Himalayas to get a break from the hot temperatures on the ground, or the photos and description of a plane that had to be equipped with one too-short wing) as well as dates and facts. The story of William Bond and his friends, foes and colleagues is an amazing piece of history, as well as an inspiration: this is someone who lived his life according to his principles without compromise and created bridges between individuals and cultures. I read it through without stopping, and immediately ordered a second copy to send to my dad.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James Miller on March 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
China's Wings is one of the finest books I've read in my 60+ years of reading. For academicians, Crouch has produced a well-researched, strongly-supported reference work. For lovers of adventure, he has provided many hours of excellent entertainment.

I'm an ex-airlifter who flew in East Asia (mostly South Vietnam) in 1968, 1969 and 1970, including 15 months of operations out of Taiwan, when Chiang's son reportedly held a lot of power. Upon arrival in Taiwan in 1969, we received an orientation in which we were cautioned about ill feelings on the island between the Taiwanese and the Nationalists and by both for the Japanese. This book has filled in gaps in my knowledge of the history of East Asia and provided context around stories I heard from older pilots in my squadron who had flown the Hump as young copilots.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Terence on April 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Greg Crouch spent more than 5 years researching and writing this book, and the results reflect that enormous effort. It is an excellent history of China for anyone interested in the period leading up to and during WWII, and an outstanding history of the amazing role played by a small Chinese airline in the affairs of the world. I use the word outstanding partly because the incredible depth of detail initially made me feel that it must be an historical novel. The author assured me, however, that he was not aware of any non-factual details in the book, and after exploring some of the resources on which he relied, I am confident of his veracity. The rest of the reason for the use of the word outstanding is that despite the amazing depth of detail, Mr. Crouch tells the story in a way that makes it a page turner - I could not put the book down. It is a compelling tale of both individual's and national strategies, tied together with impressive journalist's skill. A must-read for both aviation and WWII buffs.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Karol Nielsen on March 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the granddaughter of a World War II Hump pilot, China's Wings was a fascinating read. I grew up admiring my grandfather's adventures, flying men and cargo over the Himalayas from India to China during the war. Gregory Crouch brings these stories of risk and bravery to life, along with the full history of the commercial airline that managed the airlift. China National Aviation Corporation, a joint venture between Pan American and the Chinese government, proved more efficient and competent at flying over the treacherous mountains in monsoons and snowstorms and dense fog than the Army Air Corps. The visionary behind CNAC was William Langhorne Bond, a Virginian who escaped the Great Depression by shepherding the airline into a profitable business for Pan Am through the turbulent, war-torn 30s and 40s in China, while Japanese soldiers and bombers attacked relentlessly. Bond endured a dozen years in China, mostly separated from his wife and two sons, to keep the airline on a steady course through the war, as he was singularly suited to diplomatically work with Chinese government and business officials. This book will remind you of the "Aviator," but it will also illuminate a little known part of history leading up to Pearl Harbor and the action in the China-Burma-India theater. A compelling story that has finally been told.
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