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Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany Paperback – September 25, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Miller (D-Days in the Pacific) chronicles the story of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in this sprawling, authoritative narrative of the "largest aerial striking force in the war." The Eighth arrived in England in 1942 to engage in "a new kind of warfare": unescorted "high-altitude strategic bombing." In addition to destroying Germany's war-making capacity, the Eighth hoped to validate its "extravagant claim that air power alone would bring down the Reich" and to win autonomy for the air force. As Miller demonstrates, the "hubris of the bomber barons" was misplaced, and the "record of the Eighth Air Force is mixed." Not only did victory require boots on the ground but the air war became a bloody "war of attrition." The Eighth suffered 26,000 combat deaths, a 12.3% fatality rate topped only by submarine crews. Drawing on exhaustive research in oral histories, diaries and government documents, Miller evenhandedly recounts the Eighth's successes and failures, emphasizing the stoic heroism of the crews who flew the missions. That diverse lot included celebrities like the actors Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable and anonymous fliers like 21-year-old Lt. Chuck Yeager. This eloquent tribute to America's bomber boys should prove popular among fans of military history. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Miller's massive, readable volume may prove to be the standard history of the Eighth Air Force. From 1942 to 1945, the men and planes of the Eighth fought the Luftwaffe, English weather, shortages of men and material, and the flaws in the original concept of strategic bombing. Only when fighter escorts all the way to the targets became available did the Eighth and its "little friends" perform the vital task of defeating German airpower. The book pays detailed tribute to the men, from movie stars like Clark Gable to ordinary mechanics, who performed the thousand-and-one tasks, from piloting to cooking, that kept the Eighth flying. It also offers a view from the other side, that of the Germans under the bombs, although in so doing it may not (still!) please obstinate foes of strategic bombing or of the "Greatest Generation" concept. Everyone else may rank this book with Roger Freeman's The Mighty Eighth (1970; rev. ed., 1986) as definitive about its subject. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743235452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743235457
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College. He hosted the series A Biography of America on PBS and has appeared in numerous other PBS programs in the American Experience series, as well as in programs on the History Channel. He is the author of eight previous books, among them the prize-winning City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, The Story of World War II, and D-Days in the Pacific.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Nesmuck on October 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a long while we delight and surprise ourselves when we pick up a book that enlightens and entertains. It's the pinnacle of excellence reached by but a few non-fiction writers. Miller is one of those writers. His book, the story of the Eighth Air Force, is one of equal parts bravery, terror, and glamour, with some of its men becoming the most celebrated personalities the war. Miller chronicles the heroic feats of Robert Morgan, pilot of the legendary Memphis Belle; of Paul Tibbets, who later would fly the Enola Gay on the A-bomb mission to Hiroshima; of Curtis LeMay, the most celebrated combat leader of the bomber war; and--one of the key figures of the book--of Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal, leader of the Bloody Hundredth, who flew 52 combat missions, was shot down three times, and later became a member of the team of prosecuting attorneys at the Nuremberg Trials.

Although remembered by few alive today, their exploits were captured for the home front by gritty young reporters such as Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney. Unlike many of the talking heads who populate our TV news, these men flew combat missions with the Bomber Boys risking their lives, not for ratings, but because they wanted to remind all the mothers and fathers wives and children back home why our cause was just.

But the most interesting thing that struck me while reading this book is that while it tells the tales of celebrities such as Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, William Wyler and the like, it also reminds us that these brave men, these truly heroic men, who flew harrowing missions, were our fathers and grandfathers. They were young men, some of them just out of high school, who were just like us or our children. It's a book filled with almost mythical heroes, men bigger than life yet real enough to be your neighbor. In an era saturated with pretend celebrities and steroid saturated athletes, this is a book that you should read to your children.
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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on December 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is awesome.

It is awesome because of its balanced and thorough analysis of the air war that pulverized Germany, a war now sentimentally known as "the good war" when Americans pulverized their enemies with the ease of comic book heroes.

"'Tain't so, Magee." Comic book heroes never had such courage.

Instead, think of the 80 percent casualty rate of the US Eighth Air Force in its early years as book theory met killing reality in conditions that stagger modern imaginations. I've flown in a B-17; it is huge on the outside, inside it is a tiny tube filled with equipment, supplies and hundreds of sharp objects that hurt when you are bumped, slip or are thrown about. Think of riding inside your computer on a truck bouncing down a bumpy mountain road and having to write an A-plus story en route.

So much for creature comfort. Put it all in air colder than Antarctica. Paint a big star on the side as a target, then send it into the sky for hours at a time. Soldiers on the ground sheltered in foxholes and bunkers; the skin of a B-17 was beer-can-thin aluminum. The plane is like a vast Tinkertoy riveted into an amazingly strong and yet frightfully vulnerable structure. It is a mighty aircraft, yet thin enough that a pigeon could penetrate it and injure crewmen.

This is the reality of the bomber offensive. Miller presents it in awesome, chilling detail. Unlike most histories, it isn't a lone portrait of some brave men; instead, it includes chilling accounts from all. One account is of an American pilot flying with his elbows because his hands were blown off, another is of German children who roasted to death in their flaming cities.
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Format: Hardcover
As a WWII history buff, the highlight of my one and only trip to Europe was crossing the Dutch coast and asking myelf how could the boys - and that's what they really were - of the Eighth Air Force have done this raid after raid, knowing that they were likely flying toward their own death. Until late 1944, the odds were against an 8th Air Force crew member surviving their tour.

Donald L. Miller answers that question and many others in his absolutely superlative history of the American air war over Germany. (Not taking anything away from Miller's work is that suggestion that you also read Max Hasting's "Bomber Command" for a view of the very different English air war.)

Miller alternates between first person accounts of crew members and their missions, the leaders, the campaign objectives, assessments of the impact of the various phases of the air war and the enemy reaction. It may sound confusing, but because of Miller's extraordinary writing and the seamless organization of his meticulously researched material, it is not.

In fact, Miller does an exceptional job of conveying the fear of the crew, the blind faith of the leaders in the doctrine of aerial bombing, the grim realities that had to be faced all down the line as men realized that the unsupported bomber was not an impregnable "Flying Fortress". Miller weaves each part of the incredibly complex air war and its combatants together. From gunners to pilots to generals to the men who selected the targets and argued over strategy, Miller allows the multiple stories to develop and blossum and then moves on to another.

Miller is careful to distinguish the American campaign of "precision" bombing from the more candidly terror oriented British campaign of "area" bombing.
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