Customer Reviews: Yeager: An Autobiography
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VINE VOICEon May 3, 2006
If I could jump inside one person's head Being-John-Malkovich style and experience their entire life, beginning-to-end, without regard to anything but the sheer roller coaster thrill of it, I'd probably pick Chuck Yeager. (Granted, the guy's not dead yet. But unless he meets a truly horrendous end--eaten alive, say, by Bengal Tigers, while slow-roasting over a barbecue pit--I'd consider myself a truly lucky man to see everything he's seen and do everything he's done.)

Ripping through the sound barrier in a bullet-shaped orange rocket plane, battling Messerschmitts in the cold European skies, testing exotic aircraft of all shapes and sizes in the bleak Mojave desert, hunting and fishing and hiking the high Sierras, hooting and hollering with friends on crazy drunken misadventures--it all sounds too fun to be legal, and except for the hooting and hollering part, I haven't done any of it.

What's more, he lived the kind of life that people don't seem to believe in anymore, the life of the self-made man who rises from nothing, who picks himself up by his own bootstraps and succeeds through good ol' Yankee Doodle initiative, ability and gumption. One of the nice things about this book, though, is that he doesn't rub it in. He's the first one to acknowledge how lucky he's been to live the life he's lived and live to tell about it. An upside-down-bolt on an airplane aileron, parachute shroud lines that almost burnt through after an ejection gone awry--any of these things could have ended this remarkable life long before old age, and he knows it.

Beyond the good luck, though, he knew enough not to press his luck. One realizes, reading this book, that Yeager's flying career's remarkable not because he took chances, but because he didn't get so cocky and full of himself that he took one chance too many. In the test pilot business, it's better to fade away than to burn out (or up).

I last read this when I was a kid, not long after it came out--I'd been blown away by "The Right Stuff" and was nuts about everything aviation-and-space related. I don't think I've seen it in twenty years, but I've had a hankering to read it for a while now, so I picked it up, put down the boring weighty intellectual tomes I usually read, and ripped through it in a couple days, eagerly smuggling it into the bathroom at work to steal some pleasure out of the boring workday. I'll never live this life, never get a pilot's license--with my narcolepsy and my bad eyes, I probably shouldn't even have a driver's license--but thanks to this book I can live Chuck Yeager's life vicariously, for a couple days, anyway.
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on August 3, 2000
Legendary flying ace Chuck Yeager has put on paper not only his life, but his amazing character as well.
Since I was a child I was told the stories of Chuck Yeager by my brothers.One of whom was an aviator himself, and was in awe of this man.
When I read his autobiography, which is definitely one of the best books I've ever read, I felt a new kind of respect for the man. A man who was never given a college education, yet managed to be one of the greatest aviators and men in history. He overcame the odds more than a few times.
What touched me most about this book was it's honesty.He never embellishes the truth, and tells it like it is, always. The book may not be the best articulated book in history, but that is because that is not Chuck's way.
He recounts all the major events in aviation history with a style that reveals his passion, and his determination that if you are going to do something, do it right.Eloquently put by Chuck, do it balls out.
I most enjoyed his manner in the book, fun loving without losing sight of himself, his demeanour is that of a mischievous brother who'll stand up for what he believes in, no matter what.
This man is a role model and one of the world's finest heroes. Read the book and meet the man.
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on January 10, 1999
Yeager personafied the WWII generation, the finest ever produced by America. His humble description of his amazing life is inspiring to all and incredible to those with a love of aviation. Besides his own history, he chronicles the life of several other people, such as lady pilots Pancho Barnes and Jackie Cochran, who also lived lives that read like movie scripts. A book that has to be read several times to be fully appreciated. Also check out "The First and the Last", by Adolf Galland, for an equally unusual true account by a great aviator and leader. Farron Dacus, Irving, Texas.
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on December 3, 2000
Supposedly, Chuck Yeager has amassed a bad rap, but from his autobiography, it's hard to see why. The retired USAF General, who went from shooting down German jets in WWII to flying faster than sound before anybody else thought it possible, tells it like it is. While that won't engender warm feelings, Yeager was obviously a man even his rivals could trust.
The General writes of his humble Virginian origins. Enlisting in the Army as a mechanic, Yeager moved to the pilot's seat through a program intended to put more non-com's into flight-duty. Yeager displays a true pilot's nostalgia of the days when he writes lovingly of the obsolete P-39's he flew from Oroville (half the P-39's built went to the Red AF under lend/lease). Getting to England by 1943, Yeager upgraded to the legendary P-51...only to get shot down by a German FW-190. Smuggled into neutral Spain and then repatriated, Yeager returned to his unit and then began shooting down German planes, including the Me-262, the first operational jet fighter. Describing the crude though effective jet, Yeager shows how his mechanic's training and senses made the crucial difference: the early jets, built for high-speed, were vulnerable when approaching their runays for landing. Because existing jet engines responded slowly and unpredictably - with one engine spooling up much faster than the other - Luftwaffe pilots who tried to speed away from threats a low speeds often got sucked into mysterious and uncontrollable rolls. It was thus in that vulnerable state that Yeager hunted the vaunted jets.
After the war, and on the strength of his having been shot down, Yeager became a test pilot at the famed high-desert testing ground of Edwards AFB. Though a fighter pilot, it was again Yeager's mechanic's training that made the difference in his selection to pilot the supersonic X-1. Originally intended for flight by civilian pilots with high-pricetags, the X-1 was grabbed in 1947 by the newly formed US Air Force as a high-profile project whose success would set that service apart from the Army from which it had just been separated. Successfully taking the X-1 past the sonic barrier, and avoiding numerous would-be disasters, Yeager excelled as a fighter-pilot. Though rivals with test pilots in other services, it was with civilian pilots that Yeager reveals a true enmity, and for the period NASA pilots in particular. Paid for their work, these pilots were not likely to satisfy the minimal requirements of flight test - exploring and establish the outer boundaries of an airplane's performance. (Nor were they very good pilots, the General maintains, "proven" by the fatal mid-air collision between the B-70 and a NASA flown F-104 in 1965). Even the best civilian fliers are flawed pilots, exceling simply because of their readiness to test their flawed assumtpions, as "Wheaties" Welsh did at the controls of an F-100 prototype with a misdesigned vertical stabilizer.
Leaving flight-test, Yeager eventually rose to command of a squadron of F-100, a plane revolutionary in that - for its pilots - it inaugurated both missiles and mid-air refueling, and was guaranteed to weed out "weak sisters". Yeager's adventures include stints commanding units in Europe during the early cold-war days, Vietnam and Pakistan during the 1970's, as well as more flight test. He flew with Jaqueline Cochrane, the rich aviatrix who left the scent of perfume in any plane she flew, chatted with Andrei Tupolev and MiG pilots, and flew MiG-15's flown to the west by defectors. Thruough it all, he rarely rises to being judgemental, though he lets history do it for him - like the way the public largely ignored him and other test-pilots while lavishing attention on Merury pilots whose scientific contributions to flight test were not as great. At the same time, his ire towards the political forces that inevitably stretched their tentacles out at flight test becomes too great to ignore - such as when one lackluster African American pilot becomes the Kennedy Administration's designated astronaut.
"Yeager" is full of insights into the aviation's golden age as well as the Cold War, yet it remains one man's story, and like the Bell X-1, it's a story your strapped into until the end.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 15, 2004
OK I couldn't stop reading. Spent several nights staying up too late reading this page-turner of a book. Yeager tells it like it is, in a delightful and fascinating manner. I'm a Navy brat, so I've experienced some of the things he has written about (i.e. living in military housing or missing my Dad when he was gone) his writing about pilots and the military life was right on.
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on February 16, 2000
The word around the campfire is that Chuck Yeager is real SOB. Fortunately, I heard this long after I'd read this book and decided he was anything but. I still question this "SOB" assessment. General Yeager signs books, answers fan mail and cracks great jokes. This is the Chuck Yeager that comes across in the pages of this book, which is undoubtedly one of the best aviation yarns ever written.
Yeager had a way of being at the right place at the right time. Those places and times form the heart of this book, and the heart of the golden age of aviation itself. If there is a person most qualified to tell the story of how America transitioned from piston-fired aircraft into the supersonic jet age, Chuck is that person. Told in a loose, casual manner, the story whizzes along at mach speed, slowing only to allow "other voices" (friends, family, comrades) to further illustrate Chuck's highly adventurous life.
The book can be very funny, as when Yeager describes "topping" a tree with his WWII trainer's wingtip; it can be suspenseful, as when Yeager and others describe his nearly fatal flight beyond Mach 2. And the book can be sad, as when he illustrates the dangers of flight testing by revealing that streets at Edwards Air Force Base were named after fallen test pilots. Of course, it's all old news now - some of the lore has even decayed into clichés. But the magic of this book is that the moment you pick it up and start reading, it all seems new again.
Yeager bashers always seem to miss what this book hits on so well; it's not the things he did, it's the way he did them. This isn't the story of a war ace turned arrogant test pilot; this is the story of a country boy who inadvertently made a name for himself merely by doing what came naturally to him. We should all be so lucky.
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on December 16, 1999
This is a well-written book, whether the credit goes to Mr. Yeager or his ghost-writer. I liked the commentaries by Yeager's wife and his fellow pilots, and I loved the tough-guy prose that really was honestly earned. Yeager started out as a sergeant-pilot and ended by becoming one of the most famous USAF test pilots that ever was. You can't help but like the man.
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on June 28, 2016
In the past I always had great respect for Chuck Yeager. No one can question his bravery in WWII. But I lost most of that respect after viewing a YouTube interview where he bad mouth's other WWII pilots who had just as good a record as he did, "Gabby" Gabreski to be specific.
Ignoring this, the book is a good read.
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on July 2, 2003
"Balls Out" that is the way Chuk Yeager described his flying, and also the way he lived his life.
By his own admission he was one of the luckiest People on the face of the Earth; he had survived many difficult and risky assignments and had been given great opportunities whilst flying for the USAF.
At the end of his career Chuck had flown over 180 different aircraft, (most of which were experimental) and had logged over 10,000hrs flying.
This is the story of his life and is quiet simply a fascinating story about an exceptional pilot who lived in extraordinary times.
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on August 26, 2005
I knew who Chuck Yeager is before reading this book. I vaguely knew of his exploits, I knew that he was good, but as far as I was concerned he was just another average test pilot. He must have just been in the right place at the right time to break the sound barrier.

After reading the book I now know that Yeager was a pilot of awesome ability. He was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. He was also lucky to have survived but he achieved what he did by being the best. I don't use the word best lightly. While he was far from the best academic pilot he was a tremendous stick and rudder pilot who went out of his way to learn about the planes that he flew.

This book is a tale extraordinary life in aviation written by its master. Having read it I have a much greater appreciation of what being a good pilot is all about.

Oh, and I also really enjoyed reading the book.
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