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The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid- America's First World War II Victory Hardcover – September 30, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Planned in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor at the behest of President Roosevelt, the U.S. bombing raids on Japan in spring 1942 were the first U.S. strikes of the war. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle of the Army Air Force, in consultation with the U.S. Navy, planned for B-25 medium bombers to take off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, hit targets including Tokyo and land at airfields in unoccupied China. The project was innovative and risky, as no medium bomber had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier, and at the time, Allied forces were being constantly beaten by the Japanese. Nelson (Let's Get Lost), whose father was a WWII Air Force pilot in New Guinea and whose mother served as a wartime air traffic controller in Atlanta, digs deeply into the planning, training and carrying out of the mission, sometimes awkwardly employing military slang, but infusing the account with infectious enthusiasm and numerous engaging first-person accounts. All the planes successfully took off and bombed their targets, but a last-minute hitch left them without enough fuel; most reached Allied lines, but eight crew members were captured by the Japanese and tried as war criminals: three were executed. The fates and subsequent careers of all the veterans quoted in the book are warmly detailed, making this an involving account of a lesser known period of the war.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The Doolittle Raid in April 1942 consisted of 16 B-25 bombers, crewed by 80 volunteers, who made the first air raid on the home islands of Japan. Four months after Pearl Harbor, they struggled off the USS Hornet, flew halfway across the Pacific, bombed Tokyo, and carried on into China. The attack went well and had strategic overtones far out of proportion to the modest damage inflicted: American pride was rejuvenated and Japanese overconfidence pricked. Fifteen of the planes crashed in China, while one crew landed safely in Vladivostok and was interned for a year. Of the participants, 80 percent survived, and most went on to other wartime duties. Nelson ably picks out the threads of the operation, from training to recovery of the flyers. There is interesting pre- and postwar biographical information about the 80 airmen, but the author is much less comfortable discussing grand strategy and the conduct of the war in the Pacific and European theaters. Although at times overly enthusiastic and overwritten, this book will find a place in every substantial World War II collection. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: The Viking Press (September 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030873
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,071,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

CRAIG NELSON is the author of Rocket Men, The First Heroes, Thomas Paine (winner of the 2007 Henry Adams Prize), and Let's Get Lost (short-listed for W.H. Smith's Book of the Year).

His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Salon, The New England Review, Reader's Digest, The New York Observer, Popular Science, and a host of other publications; he has been profiled in Variety, Interview, Publishers Weekly, and Time Out.

Besides working at a zoo, in Hollywood, and being an Eagle Scout and a Fuller Brush Man, he was a vice president and executive editor of Harper & Row, Hyperion, and Random House, where he oversaw the publishing of twenty New York Times' bestsellers.

He lives in Greenwich Village.

photo: Helvio Faria

Customer Reviews

I thought that is was well written and very interesting read.
Dale Jeffries
Much of Nelson's book - and much of his research work too, one suspects - is background information only tangentially relevant to the actual Raid.
Just three to illustrate -- I might add that these are so glaringly bad they are laughable.
Mark Zablotny

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book says that he only learned of the Doolittle mission a few years ago. One wonders why Viking, his publisher, the publisher of such distinguished WWII authors as Prof. Ronald Spector, commissioned this author to write on the Doolittle raid.
The book is full of basic factual errors and strange assertions about combat and World War II. It tells us that American battleships were armed with torpedoes and that Mitchell B-25 bombers had diesel engines. (Both are not the case.) More importantly and even more bizarrely, it states that if the U.S. didn't win the battle at Midway, Japan's empire would still be "intact today."
One would be better served (and informed) watching the movie "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," which was produced with technical advisers who actually flew the mission.
The author would have been too.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Mark Chidichimo on August 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I really, really wanted to like this book. I'd just finished Hornfischer's outstanding "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" and wanted some more inspirational reading. I'm about half finished listening to this book in its MP3 version, and have noted the following:
1) the author has no - and I repeat no - required knowledge of the US Navy. There are many, many small, factual errors that are really annoying - referring to the HMS Repulse as a "cruiser", describing the Japanese torpedoes as "two feet long", etc, etc. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the US Navy in WW2 should have been given an opportunity to preview this book before publication.
2) Overuse of military jargon - bombs referred to as "cabbages", torpedoes as "eels" by such a rank amateur was just too much.
3) this really doesn't apply to the book itself, but the reader on the MP3 version had no idea regarding correct pronunciation of naval terms - (en-sine, indeed.)
I find that when there are so many factual errors in an area that I'm familiar with, I have a tough time accepting the new - often interesting on its face - data that an author brings up. It's too bad that such a terrific topic couldn't have been treated more professionally. I read "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" as a kid and really was looking for some new information. I blame the editors completely for this second rate attempt.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jack Roberts on March 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ever since I saw "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" on TV as a kid, the Doolittle Raid has been one of my favorite American military missions. The bravery exhibited by Col. Doolittle's Raiders and Bull Halsey's Task Force 16 is an example of American audacity, ingenuity and courage at its finest.
I've read several other accounts of the Doolittle raid, and Nelson does a fairly good job of presenting the preparation, attack and evasion phases of the operation. But he distracts the reader away from the focus of the book by going off on tangents, breezing through Pearl Harbor, Midway and the German U-boat offensive.
My main compliant with this work is that Nelson clearly doesn't know much about World War II, and even less about aviation. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem, but apparently he didn't bother to let anyone with some expertise read his manuscript. That's too bad. If he had, he would have learned that no one EVER refered to North American's B-25 as a "Billy" or a "B" (since the Raider's used B-25B models). He also would have learned that B-25's were constructed from aluminum, not steel and that taxing an aircraft is not how one transitions it to flight. He also would have learned that Guadalcanal is not a coral atoll and that the cave fighting he describes there did not occur until later in the Pacific War.
All in all, I give Mr. Nelson points for telling the Raiders' story. In many sections, the book is hard to put down. But I wish he'd done more thorough research, as his errors detract from the overall effort.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
By Bill Marsano. Craig Nelson, who would rescue the Doolittle Raid from oblivion, is an odd choice for the job. Despite parents who were both involved in WWII aviation and who "filled my childhood with stories of daring raids [and], secret missions," Nelson says, "I didn't know a thing about it." Astonishing--still, writing on a clean slate, unencumbered by what everyone else has written and said, can be insightful and fresh. That's something Nelson should bear in mind next time.
There are good things here--the words of the 16 bomber crews themselves, their wives and sweethearts, and other participants. They make fascinating reading from beginning to end--the hasty, secretive training; the daring if slightly hare-brained idea itself (launching B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier was a first, and the crews had practiced only on land); the raid itself; the crews' subsequent and usually succesful evasion of the Japanese after landing in China. There are harrowing tales from prison by crewmen who were captured and brutally mistreated, and follow-ups on the flyers' later combat service and postwar lives. Almost all of this material comes from archives or published sources. There's little new here, but 60 years after the fact that's understandable: Nelson says one of the surviving raiders died even as he was arranging an interview); Never mind: The raiders' own words tell most of the story and tell it well for those with "entry level" interest.
Unfortunately, a lot of the book is written by Nelson himself, and he isn't much of a writer, what with his clunky prose style (the aircraft carrier is a "giant city of steel" and a "steel behemoth") and frail grasp of idiom (radio tubes "warmed into gear").
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