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Under the Wire: The World War II Adventures of a Legendary Escape Artist and "Cooler King" First Edition Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312338329
ISBN-10: 0312338325
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Readers may be familiar with Stalag Luft III as the German prison camp that was the setting of the movie The Great Escape. Ash was a real-life prisoner there during World War II, and he spent most of his time there trying to escape. He was a "cooler king," a real-life version of the Steve McQueen character in the film: someone who alternated between planning escapes and whiling away the hours in solitary confinement after the various schemes failed. But, for Ash, unlike his fictional counterparts, life was not a lighthearted adventure. His entry into Occupied France was via an airplane crash, he was tortured by the Gestapo, he watched his friends and fellow prisoners gunned down while attempting their own breakouts. Like Paul Brickhill's Great Escape (the book on which the movie was loosely based) and other WWII lemme-outta-here stories, this memoir is full of excitement and drama. Fans of escape literature will eat it up. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"What a splendid book! This is a moving and heroic story of a young man who overcomes all obstacles with a sense of humor and succeeds in the end. Hollywood should snap this book up in a flash. Buy it, read it, enjoy it." --Charles Whiting, author of Hero, Life and Death of Audie Murphy
"A remarkable story of one man's refusal to give in to his captors, brilliantly told and with all the authentic sights, sounds ands smells of the World War II prison camp." - Tony Rennell, co-author of The Last Escape.
"Bill Ash has led a life of adventure that will inspire, astonish, and sometimes even amuse the readers of this memoir. Ash is a writer who makes his readers feel as if they're right there beside him through it all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the escapades of Bill Ash during World War II. Readers who like stories of wild and magnificent adventure are going to love this book!" --Homer Hickam, author, Rocket Boys/October Sky, The Ambassador's Son
"Under the Wire is everything I would expect from a memoir by Bill Ash -- fast-paced, exciting and moving, but also colored by his mischievous sense of humor. He has a real gift as a storyteller -- the characters and events come off the page as if we were meeting and experiencing them ourselves. Bill Ash was one of the great escape artists of the Second World War, and always managed to put himself in the center of the action. He endured a lot, but never lost his essential humanity and zest for life, something that comes through very strongly in his book. That's what makes Under the Wire such a joy to read -- getting to know the irrepressible Ash and reliving his adventures with him." --Jonathan Vance, author of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape
"Under The Wire is an introspective and instructive look at the indomitable spirit to escape from World War II German prison camps possessed by men like American fighter pilot William Ash. Beaten, starving, freezing or sick, they were relentless in their quest to force German troops to hunt them and thus not be available for other fronts, and to get home themselves to fight again. From hard times in Depression-era Texas to flying Spitfires against the Luftwaffe to Gestapo torture chambers, Ash's memoir is thoughtful, deep, and poignant for a fighter pilot, almost dreamlike sometimes in its obscurity and wistfulness. But reality always returns in the grim details of camp life, the wily and ingenious methods of escape, and the stories of brave and courageous men and their break outs. Ash has a humor and incitefulness that adds to the history. His book is a testament to man's deep-seated yearning to be free." --Robert Wilcox, author of First Blue
"Under the Wire is a revelation in World War Two history. A true story of fighter pilots, few in number but among the first to take a stand against the destructive powers of the Nazis in their bid to enslave and rule the world. Under the Wire tells it like it was. Here is a true, honest-to-God historical account in the first person of Bill Ash, Spitfire fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain. Everyone should read this bit of history brought to light." --Donald R. Burgett, author of The Road to Arnhem and the Screaming Eagles series


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (October 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312338325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312338329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I began reading UNDER THE WIRE, I expected a story of heroic "derring-do", recalled with a sort of misty, stiff-upper lipped nostalgia by a Grand Lion in the winter of his remarkable life.

Instead, I got so, so much more.

Bill Ash's life is remarkable by anyone's yardstick. From his earliest childhood in Depression-era Texas, he was a hero, ready and eager to take on any bully. While America watched as Europe fell to a maniacal Hitler, he made a decision to personally take on the biggest bully in modern history.

Remarkable? Brave? Courageous? Yes, all of these adjectives describe the heroic life of Bill Ash.

But his life, and his story -- told so extraordinarily well by Ash and his co-writer, Brendan Foley -- is also funny, human and a lesson in living one's life with heart and a true moral compass.

There is as much Huck Finn and Jack Kerouac in Ash's war stories, as there is John Wayne.

Like all great tales of history, UNDER THE WIRE does more than offer adventure after adventure (and WOW, what adventures Bill had!)

The book offers a sense of the times, a sense of the politics, insights into the dangers, the choices, the cat-and-mouse existence of a Prisoner of War.

Bill played cat-and-mouse with the Third Reich, and did it brilliantly.

And I have never read an adventure story with so much genuine humor!

UNDER THE WIRE is a glorious tribute to the sort of person we long for, but never really see anymore: a true hero.

And it's a great, entertaining read.
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Format: Paperback
At the time of this writing William Ash is 95: his story is told with the enlightened assistance of Brendan Foley who just happens to be writing the screenplay for the film that has been optioned that will make this incredible story a thriller of a film.

From the advanced information about the release of this book comes the following information that in many ways summarizes the book well: `Born in Dallas in 1917, WILLIAM ASH worked his way through school and college during the Great Depression, graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, to the heights of elevator operator, then Hobo. At the outbreak of war in Europe he rode the rails to Canada and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. A Spitfire pilot, he saw action over England and France. He was shot down near Calais in March 1942 and evaded the German forces for months with help from the French Resistance but was captured and badly beaten by the Gestapo and sentenced to death as a spy. Bill was sent to a succession of POW camps in Occupied Europe from which he escaped on a regular basis, becoming one of the greatest escapers of the war. At war's end, he was awarded an MBE for his escaping activities and went on to work for the BBC in India and Britain. He became a writer and a past Chair of the Writers Guild (GB). Married to the academic Ranjana Ash, he lives in London where he stayed after the war.'

Given the background of the story (which everyone has noted by now) the beauty of this book is the manner in which it is written. There is a fine balance between fact and embellished humor and the authors (Brendan Foley's keen skills polish the prose well) understand the arc and flow of a suspense thriller well.
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Format: Hardcover
The subject matter for this book sounds grim: Ash starts off talking about life in the Great Depression, and ends up talking about his experiences being thrown into (and escaping out of) German POW camps. In fact, though, this is one of the most thrilling, funny, suspenseful and inspiring books I've read in some time. Ash's optimism, indomitable spirit, and wonderful sense of humor got him through the war, and they're all on display on just about every page.

Ash is also a keen observer--a trait that no doubt helped him pull off his daring escapes, and one that enables him to bring the characters he met along the way to vivid life.

In short, "Under The Wire" reads like a great thriller. The fact that it's all true makes it all the more gripping and inspiring.
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Format: Hardcover
"Under The Wire" by William Ash (with Brendan Foley). Sub-titled, "The World War II Adventures Of A Legendary Escape Artist And `Cooler King'". St. Martin's Press, New York 2005.

William Ash was raised in Depression-Era Texas, where he learned the hard way that life is rough. Those lessons stood him in good stead when he became an expert escape artist from the POW camps of Nazi Germany. As he said, on page 22, his "twilight actives" prepared him by: "...being an unwelcome nonpaying passenger, learning how to avoid the attention of guard dogs or the authorities, sharing food and political discussions with men just as badly off as myself , and sometimes just learning to laugh in the face of everything the world could throw at me." He calls his younger days as "An Apprenticeship In Escapology".

Building on the first two chapters, he then relates the story of his decision to fly for the RAF, his aviation training, first in Canada, and then in the actual combat zone in England during the Blitz. Because of his flying for the RAF, he had to renounce his American citizenship. There are vivid descriptions of London under the bombs, with destruction and fire seemingly everywhere. Then comes the chapter that changes everything: "The Day Of Reckoning". (page 85): "I cut my engine, since it was clearly full of holes and not doing much good".

Shot down over occupied France, William Ash is helped by some French farmers, who struggle with his high school French but help him to find the underground resistance. He is, however, captured in Paris in June 1942, but not before he was able to enjoy the city of Paris as any tourist would do.
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