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Hunting Warbirds: The Obsessive Quest for the Lost Aircraft of World War II Paperback – March 26, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345436180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345436184
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sent to Greenland by Smithsonian magazine to write a piece about Navy P-3 Orion aircraft and their search for submarines, freelance journalist Hoffman was taken up by the crew he was interviewing, with a detour past the ruins of a WWII-era B-29 "Flying Fortress," the Kee Bird. Hoffman became hooked, and he found he was not alone in his obsession about the downed plane, which had crashed at the edge of a lake 40 years earlier, and was nearly perfectly preserved. In a painstaking blow-by-blow reconstruction, Hoffman charts three separate expeditions that were made by an assortment of amateur obsessives to salvage read: restore and fly the Kee Bird, writing in the first person when he went along on a trip, and in the third when recounting the adventures of the diverse subculture of plane salvagers when he couldn't. Their efforts go for naught, and anyone who doesn't already have the flier bug will have shut the book before the marooned bird's engines catch and then catch fire. Written with assurance, Hoffman's debut will certainly hold the buff market rapt, and will also find some readers of extreme sports and travel narratives, but it doesn't have the breadth to break out, though a 5-city author tour could help draw in readers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A select group of people, fanatic about fabled World War II warplanes, expend vast sums on the recovery of battered wrecks from unlikely places, then spend even greater sums restoring the planes. Most of them want to fly the warbirds, but some just like the detective and engineering challenges involved. Like any special interest group, they have their politics, relationships, successes, and failures. It is now 56 years after the war, and most of the planes have been melted down; little tangible remains of that part of history. For instance, of more than 100,000 B-29s built, only two are still flying. Journalist Hoffman (Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine) had the good fortune to have been an observer at the attempted salvage of the Kee Bird, an almost undamaged B-29 that crashed gently in northern Greenland. This epic tale of unbelievable risk, tragedy, heroism, and obsession, details a strange hobby, yet the author spins it into an intriguing tale. Recommended for libraries with aerospace or World War II interests. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and was a New York Times summer reading pick. He has won four Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation and one North American Travel Journalism Award. A veteran journalist and former contributing editor for Wired, he has traveled to more than 70 countries on assignment for Outside, Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, the Magazine, Wired, Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics and many other publications. He is a native of Washington, D. C. and the father of three children.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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It is highly entertaining and very educational.
Mike B
This book attempts to describe the passion and obsession, but its disjointed, episodic and disintegrated form works against it and the technical errors are annoying.
John Joss
An educating and fun story - definitely worth a read!
C. B. Halvorson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Author Hoffman did well in bringing the Kee Bird (B-29) renovate-to-fly story to the reader. His vivid character descriptions made one feel he was in a smoke filled, "expat" barroom alive with dreams and deals. However much like the Kee Bird herself, Mr. Hoffman's book failed to clear the runway and fly the reader to a satisfying landing. After the Kee Bird tale the author lapsed into a meandering style as he wrote of hohum tell-me-about-yourself visits with vintage aircraft collectors and relatively mundane (cf. the Kee Bird) aircraft recovery ops. Additionally, as noted by another reviewer, if you are a student of vintage aircraft you already know of the Hoffman tales via PBS, Discovey, and aeronautical periodicals.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It appears from the reviews posted on this site that, the less you know about World War II aviation and the warbird movement, the more you liked Hunting Warbirds. The more you know, the less you liked it. Despite his childhood interest in WWII aircraft, Mr. Hoffman is no expert in the field. If he were the numerous mistakes that slipped into the narrative wouldn't be there. (A small army of editors is cited in the acknowledgements, don't they know anything about this either?) What mistakes, you ask? Warbird collector David Tallichet is repeatedly refered to as "Davis Tallichet." B-17's were powered by nine cylinder engines, not 18 cylinder engines as Mr. Hoffman repeatedly states. The CAF reenactment of Pearl Harbor does not feature "Betty" bombers, they were twin-engine, land based aircraft. The CAF B-17, "Sentimental Journey" is based in Mesa, Arizona, not Tuscon. I may be picking nits here but errors of fact, no matter how insignificant, detract from the overall veracity of a text. Those of us fortunate enough to be involved in the warbird movement will spot them a mile away. Despite the numerous mistakes, I enjoyed Hunting Warbirds. If the mistakes were corrected in a new addition, I'd up my rating to four stars.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Collins on May 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"Hunting Warbirds" primarily relates the story of the location and extraction of an RB-29 lost in Greenland in 1947. As a story about modern archaeology it's fairly interesting, as a story about warbirds and collectors, it's superficial. Other reviewers have clearly outlined the rambling nature of the prose: we go from Greenland, to the States for an interview with a "unique" collector (that doesn't really shed insight into Warbird Enthusiasts, except to say that some are obsessed. Anyone's who's been to a gaming or Star Trek convention can observe the same behaviors in the minority of attendees), back to Greenland. But as I said above, "Who's the audience here?" One of the concepts I was taught in my undergrad days was to write to the knowledge base of the target audience. Mr Hoffman, seems to have ignored this advice in this work. His NUMEROUS inaccuracies regarding WW2 aircraft, and aviation are enough to put off aviation enthusiasts, (the logical target audience) while the narrow scope of the book would discourage general readers. The inaccuracies themselves always leave that "what else is missing, misquoted or just plain wrong here?" notion in the back of your mind. This is frankly surprising since his resume includes "Air & Space" and "Smithsonian" magazines. Finally, a better book would have at least summarized the efforts in Finland, Germany, and Russia to recover some of their warbirds from WW2. Operations that in ethnocentric America, don't get their deserved attention. If you are an aviation or WW2 aircraft enthusiast, you already know this story-the book offers no addtional insight-certainly none into WW2 salvage as a whole. If you have a slight interest in the subject matter, the documentaries about the salvage operation are a better medium.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Joss on April 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Piston-engined aircraft of WWII are among the most fascinating and important artifacts of the 20th century, part of some of the most intriguing history of war and humanity that affected millions directly and indirectly. It is not surprising that they evoke passion and obsession.
This book attempts to describe the passion and obsession, but its disjointed, episodic and disintegrated form works against it and the technical errors are annoying. Reviewer Collins (see his review) correctly identifies the core problem: the author does not seem to have considered his audience(s). If he's writing for knowledgeable aviation enthusiasts, his lack of depth, poor research and many errors are a turnoff. If he's writing for non-flyers, he doesn't provide enough background information on the many wonderful flight museums and collectors around the world to frame the subject adequately (his superficiality about, say, Kermit Weeks, is a huge disappointment, as just one glaring example). If he's writing for readers who enjoy literature, his lack of polish is a disappointment--much of the book reads like a first draft. It seems that Hoffman's approach to flying is skewed to the gee-whiz and away from the magnificent, mysterious realities of aviation.
Offering credentials like AIR & SPACE and SMITHSONIAN doesn't induce confidence in the reader. Both these publications often use materials from staff or stringers that are deeply disappointing and too often read like the work of somewhat talented amateurs, matched by editorial positions that seem to be issued--without justification--ex cathedra. If Hoffman had written for AVIATION WEEK or FLIGHT JOURNAL one could be sure of its quality.
If some genuinely competent pilot-writer could approach this subject--someone like, say, Walter Boyne or Richard Bach--it would result in an important historical document with breadth, depth and authenticity. Such a work is urgently needed. Sadly, HUNTING WARBIRDSA is not that book.
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