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Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel 1st Edition

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805064582
ISBN-10: 0805064583
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Editorial Reviews Review

For the decade preceding World War II, the last word in transoceanic travel belonged to rigid airships--dirigibles. Douglas Botting's Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine traces the development and demise of these huge machines, which he calls a "supreme example of one evolutionary branch of aeronautical development."

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

"Oh, the humanity and all the passengers... a mass of flaming wreckage." These words from radio reporter Herbert Morrison witnessing the destruction of the Hindenberg in 1937 are familiar to many. However, in the two decades before this disaster, the zeppelin had a string of successful voyages around the world and was a popular mode of transportation, particularly among the affluent. English journalist Botting (Gerald Durrell: The Authorized Biography) vividly tells the story of the development of the zeppelin and the work of its inventor, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Eckener, an entrepreneur, believed that this type of aircraft would eventually be an accepted mode of transportation around the world. He faced skepticism from both government and private industry as he traveled from his native Germany overseas on the zeppelin to raise money and support. The difficulty of getting enough fuel for long voyages was a daunting obstacle, but Eckener's zeppelin dreams ended with the Hindenberg explosion. Botting's thorough research and plausibly recreated conversations of those involved allow readers to easily step back into Eckener's world and understand the difficulties he encountered.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (October 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805064583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805064582
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There has been a popular fascination with zeppelins ever since the first one flew, as is well attested and documented in a history of the craft, _Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel_ (Henry Holt) by Douglas Botting. For many, this will be a first introduction to Dr. Hugo Eckener, a remarkable airman who did more for the zeppelins than Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin himself. Eckener was a journalist and private scholar who wrote of the crash of one of Zeppelin's early models, and was critical of the endeavor. Zeppelin called upon Eckener in 1906 to explain what improvements were going to be made, and then invited him to dinner, and Eckener was convinced. Eckener was a brilliant publicist first of all, and under his influence Zeppelin became a German folk hero whose magnificent machines embodied German pride and industrial skill.
The ships proved unreliable militarily, but between the world wars, the zeppelin became a sensation. The centerpiece of this book is the now all-but-forgotten record-breaking flight of the _Graf Zeppelin_ in 1929. Christened in memory of the count the year before, the ship was a product of Eckener's enthusiasm and all the improvements accumulated by trial and error in the previous decades. Eckener knew his ship well, and had become a master of meteorological observation and prediction. He had seen the eagerness with which his countrymen greeted the huge ship whenever it approached their cities, and he wanted to extend the prestige of his downtrodden country into the world. There was no better way to do this than a feat that could be undertaken by no other craft than his own _Graf_: the first-ever passenger flight around the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E. E Pofahl on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Today with stealth fighters and bombers, Concorde supersonic airliners and jumbo-jets, few people realize that from 1928 to May 1937 German zeppelins dominated trans-Atlantic passenger air travel. In the book, Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine, Douglas Botting takes the reader back to the time of "zeppelin fever" and using the Graf Zeppelin as the narrative vehicle, tells the story of the German zeppelins and the life of Dr. Hugo Eckener.
The book opens with a account of the Graf Zeppelin's August 1929 flight from Friedrichshafen Germany to Berlin, the beginning of the Graf's 1929 round the world flight. Chapter 2 tells the story of Count Zeppelin and his invention of the rigid airship in 1900. Amazingly in 1910 zeppelins began carrying passengers on sightseeing flights over German cities. Chapter 3 narrates the zeppelin in WWI where great technical advances were made but the zeppelin had limited military utility. Virtually put out of business after WWI by the Inter-Allied Control Commission, the Zeppelin Company was revived in 1926 by supplying the LZ-126 (USS Los Angeles) to the United States as war reparations. Later funds were raised in Germany to build LZ-127, christened Graf Zeppelin on July 8, 1928.
The Graf Zeppelin was a passenger airship test-bed and Dr. Eckener wrote that the Graf ". . .was to prove that passengers could now be carried across the Atlantic Ocean by air in speed and safety, and with all the comfort and pleasure which the modern traveler demands." Botting narrates the dramatic first Atlantic crossing of the Graf in 1928.
The 1929 world flight was in reality two record flights, one originating at Lakehurst, New Jersey financed by Hearst Newspapers and the second starting at Friedrichshafen.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By W. C HALL VINE VOICE on June 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been fascinated by the age of the rigid airships since childhood, and have read as much as I could find on their history, but I've never come across a book on the subject as well-written or as informative as this one.
The Graf Zeppelin's famous flight around the world is the jumping off-point for this story, and the author recreates it in vivid detail. You will find yourself peering out of the gondola with the other passengers as the giant silver bird floats gracefully up into the sky. You will marvel with them at the vastness of the globe below them...the endless Siberian territory, much of it probably never gazed on by human eyes before; the great expanse of the Pacific, never crossed by air before; and on across the great panorama of America.
You will relive this historic journey, but you will learn much more. You will travel back to the birth of the rigid airship, the brainchild of the "Crazy Count" Von Zeppelin; you will learn of its development, its triumphs, its failures, its key role in the First World War. You will follow the story into the Golden Age of the passenger airship, as the Graf under the command of Dr. Eckener explores one new frontier after another; you will understand how the Nazi takeover in Germany changed the nature of the Zeppelin enterprise; and you will see the steps that led to the fiery demise of the passenger airship when the Hindenberg exploded in flames over the landing field at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
If you have any sort of interest in airships, you should buy this book. It won't disappoint you!
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