The first dirigible, invented by Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was launched in 1900. It was another German, Dr. Hugo Eckener, however, who recognized and developed the potential of this vehicle as a viable commercial craft. By the late-1930s airships nearly 800 feet long had not only circumnavigated the globe but were regularly transporting passengers and mail from Europe to South America and the United States. Though the end of these vehicles commercial viability was preordained by rapid advances in airplane technology, Eckener's hopes were abruptly and finally ended with the fiery 1937 crash of the Hindenburg over Lakehurst, New Jersey. Botting briefly sketches the history and technology of lighter-than-air ships, but his enthusiasms are most apparent in detailed and novelistic narratives of various voyages, specially the 1929 circumnavigation by the Graf Zeppelin and the last trip of the Hindenburg. He is clearly enthusiastic about airships--sometimes overly so--but concludes, like Eckener, that they occupied, at best, a brief niche in air travel.
Botting's book is somewhat uneven. He is at his best when conveying the thrills, dangers and beauty of the voyages themselves and showing how Eckener and his ships were victims of politics as much as highly inflammable hydrogen. His discussions of history and technology are less adept, but the book in the end is a brisk and at times engaging primer of a wondrous and mostly forgotten aeronautical era. --H. O'Billovitch
From Publishers Weekly
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