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The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking Paperback – June 17, 2014
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Embedding a 1972 skyjacking in the technical and international contexts of the phenomenon, Koerner recounts the incident through the life of its perpetrator. Like the protagonist of his previous title, Now the Hell Will Start (2008), Roger Holder was a black soldier with grievances against the army. Mining Holder’s paper trail in military, police, and legal records, and ultimately interviewing Holder himself, Koerner sets the scene when hijacking crept into Holder’s mind as a spectacular solution to his problems. Bringing his white girlfriend, Catherine Kerkow, along, he grandiosely aspired to strike a blow for revolution. He demanded money, the release of Angela Davis, and transport to Hanoi. Changing plans as his crime transpired, Holder instead settled for Algiers, intending to unite with Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver. Wearing out their welcome, Holder and Kerkow drifted to France, where the vogue for radical chic—their case was toasted by Joan Baez and Jean-Paul Sartre—still flourished. Following the threads to Holder’s death in 2012 and Kerkow’s disappearance, Koerner crafts thorough research into a perceptive, riveting presentation. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Selected as a Top Ten Book of the Year by Dwight Garner, New York Times
A Boston Globe Top Nonfiction Book of 2013
An Outside Best Adventure Book of the Year
A Slate Staff Pick of 2013
ALA 2014 Notable Book
A Google Play Best Book of 2013
A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of 2013
A KQED Best Book of 2013
“This material, naturally a great yarn, is handled exceedingly well… Koerner has a rare empathy, and by acknowledging the fullness of [this] strange story, he suggests a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.” —New York Times Book Review
“Such pure pop storytelling that reading it is like hearing the best song of summer squirt out of the radio. Both the author and his subjects are so audacious that they frequently made me laugh out loud.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Brilliantly evoking the atmosphere of the era with its bubbling racial tensions, Vietnam War disillusionment, and marijuana fug, The Skies Belong To Us weaves a vivid retelling of America’s longest-distance hijacking and its globe-spanning, stranger-than-fiction aftermath with the history of this most mediagenic of crimes... As The Skies Belong To Us so entertainingly and insightfully demonstrates, even a recent historical era can seem not merely like a different time, but like a different planet.” —The Daily Beast
“The free-wheeling, hijacking-crazy days of the 1960s and early '70s come to life vividly in Brendan I. Koerner's evocative new page-turner The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. With abundant research and a sharp eye for the absurd, Koerner transports us to a time long before anyone thought of crashing planes into buildings, when people took over airplanes for all sorts of weird reasons that were only occasionally political.” —Los Angeles Times
“Thrums with the revolutionary, paranoid energy of the era.” —Boston Globe
“Koerner's book is original and riveting, relying on extensive information derived from Freedom of Information Act requests, newspaper reports, and original interviews… These descriptions, which form the bedrock of the book, are amazing.” —Bookforum
“Skillfully re-creates this tumultuous era...an impressive job of research that includes interviews with many of the central players in the drama...a gripping portrait of a chaotic time.” —Washington Post
“Koerner captures the tenor of the times with a splendid and stylish tale.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Arresting from its opening, with a cinematic attention to the details of how two ordinary kids from the suburbs got wrapped up in everything from the Black Panthers to Parisian art circles to Angela Davis to the evening news… Where Skies hit me wasn't merely in its text, but in the profound implications of its story on our contemporary issues.” —Anil Dash
“Brendan Koerner tracks the duo's adventures, from their mingling with Black Panthers in Algeria to schmoozing with celebs in Paris. Predictably, their sojourn soured.”
“The level of detail in The Skies Belong to Us is outstanding, and it’s these quirky pieces that make the book so mesmerizing… essential reading for anyone interested in aviation or the cultural history of the ’60s and ’70s, but honestly I don’t know how anyone could read this book and not find it enthralling.” —MetroPulse
“The ratio of astonishing facts to words per page makes this book a terrifically fun summer read.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York
“[A] cracking new book.” —New York Post
"Both a fascinating look into the psychology of America and a detailed portrait of the lives of two of the era’s key players, Koerner has put together a brilliant piece of narrative non-fiction that often reads like an exciting caper.” —RVANews
“The true story of young lovers who commandeer a flight from LAX to Seattle and get away with one of the biggest skyjackings in American history.” —Los Angeles Magazine
“A thrill-ride… Koerner’s chronicle of these events is exhaustively researched and staggering to behold.” —Ask the Pilot
“Hard not to like... Koerner captures the kinetic energy of the criminals on the lam and the syrup-slow lifestyles they lead after the engines are shut off and everyone is led off the plane.” —Boing Boing
“Brendan I. Koerner has meticulously reconstructed one of the maddest and most fascinating crime stories in American history. The result is a riveting and illuminating book that will hold you in its spell.”
—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
“The Skies Belong to Us is one of the most exciting and fascinating books that I've read this year. It recreates a time when American skyjackings were so common – and casual – that they occurred every week, and brings you into the thrilling heart of one of the most audacious hijackings in history. I couldn't stop reading, and what's most amazing is that it's all true.”
—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit
“Brendan I. Koerner has turned an odd, nearly forgotten aerial-hijacking episode into an astonishing, hilarious, and un-put-downable true-crime narrative. I had no idea that any story could connect the Eldridge Cleaver of the Sixties with the TSA miseries of today's air travel, but The Skies Belong to Us does that and much more. This is a marvelously entertaining, instructive, and humane book.”
—James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic and author of China Airborne
“Besides being a can't-put-it-down page-turner and an evocative recollection of a forgotten slice of history, The Skies Belong To Us feels uncannily relevant today in its depiction of how political forces can impede rational solutions to criminal violence.”
—Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar
“A thrill ride through the turbulent times when airline hijackings were a weekly occurrence, The Skies Belong to Us is true-crime writing at its best. Fast-paced and hard to put down, Brendan I. Koerner’s historical page-tuner artfully reconstructs one of the most astonishing skyjackings of Vietnam War era while telling a larger story of politics, money, and how air travel became what it is today.” —Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves
“A riveting, highly readable tale of terror in the skies.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Koerner crafts thorough research into a perceptive, riveting presentation.” —Booklist
“Gripping… A fascinating look at the history of skyjacking. The odyssey of Holder’s life before and after his act of terror, aided by his lover, Cathy Kerkow, makes for a compelling read.” —Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
While the events in this book are only a few decades behind us, much has changed in dramatic ways. I was particularly struck by the airlines' lackadaisical attitude toward security, as well as their vehement opposition to change. Lives were lost and people lived in fear while airline executives and government officials bickered about details and finances.
Koerner has an engaging, conversational writing style that made me feel like he was sitting beside me, telling me a story. This is a nonfiction book that often reads like fiction. At times I had to remind myself that, while crazy, these things did really happen
If the book truly focused on them, it would be a 2-star read at best. Happily, they are merely the ugly rebar scaffolding for the better 2/3 of the book, an account of the progression of skyjacking in the US, how the people and government responded, and how we got to the lull we've been in since the early 80s (2001 excepted, of course).
It's a shade before my time, but i had no idea that skyjackings used to be a weekly event. The trend had been so completely extinguished by the mid-80s that i think most people born after 1980 or so would probably find the whole history of it surprising.
The author's tightly-written prose takes the reader through summaries of dozens of skyjackings, how they related to each other, how future attempts built off them, how they affected international relations, what laws passed or failed. Intercut with these are slow, plodding chapters about Holder and Kerkow. It may not be the author's fault, as it seems Holder's major pastime was having psychiatric breakdowns and smoking vast amounts of pot. Even during the skyjacking they committed, Holder repeatedly stops for smoke breaks. I doubt it did much to curb the tension in the plane at the time, but it sure does break the flow of the story for readers after the fact.
Sad as it is to say, the story is more thrilling and gripping during their post-skyjacking legal battles than it is during the skyjacking itself.
So i do recommend this book, as i did thoroughly enjoy most of it. I'm not sure how it could be done without using Holder and Kerkow as the scaffolding, as their story does serve as a sort of exemplar case for the whole epidemic, but the chapters about them are the worst parts of the book.
Next, this book tells the nearly forgotten story of the rash of highjackings - "skyjackings" - that occurred in the late 60s/early 70s. The airlines all had official policies of complying with the demands of terrorists, so highjackings became more and more common and more and more daring.
Finally, this is the story of the development of TSA and current airport security as we know it. In the past 40 years, we've gone from a situation where it was UNTHINKABLE - to the airlines and to the public - to allow metal detectors, to the present situation. You can trace the evolving mindset throughout the book as highjackings become more and more routine and prove a greater and greater risk to the public.
This book is interesting, engaging, and full of nearly unbelievable anecdotes, put together in such a way that it's a page turner.
I grew up during this period (my father worked for Pan Am and I took my first long-distance flight in 1970) and watched hijacking go from being a somewhat eccentric (though dangerous) exercise to a murderous modus operandi favored by hard-core radical terrorists. The book's two main characters, Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, fall somewhere between the two extremes and their story is essentially the story of the times they lived in. Whether you think Koerner gets it right regarding just exactly what Holder and Kerkow represent (and how they eventually end up) will probably depend upon your politics and age.
Had this book been written by someone 10 years older (i.e., someone who lived through the era) or had Koerner waited 10 more years to research, expand, and gain a bit more historical perspective, the book could have been a five-star exercise in good history. In its current form, it reads like a long magazine article.
So would I spend $20 to read this book? It's a fairly quick read and it's a fun read, but it's not a $20 read (I think the publisher would have better served the author and the reader by publishing as a paperback). A pleasant diversion (pun intended), Koerner serves up a slice of nostalgia from a wild time in American cultural history that no one will regret the time spent on it. Certainly more than a 3-star book, but not good enough for 4 stars.
(NOTE: this book was provided at no cost for review purposes.)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All written, factual and easy to follow book.