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The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking Paperback – Illustrated, June 17, 2014
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“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
About the Author
- Item Weight : 9.2 ounces
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307886115
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307886118
- Product Dimensions : 5.19 x 0.72 x 7.98 inches
- Publisher : Broadway Books; Illustrated Edition (June 17, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #344,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It was also the time of 'radical chic,' a concept that glorified anyone who staged a big stunt (like a hijacking) for political reasons. Holder and Kerkow even gave their 'project' a name ('Sisyphus') and a goal: To free Angela Davis, an accused 'radical' who was on trial at the time. Kerkow and Holder became the darlings of the rich and powerful in France who supported the concept of radical chic. And France was where they ended up after the pair hijacked a Western Airlines flight, and managed to extort $500,000 from the airline to boot. After switching to a longer-range aircraft with a portion of the passengers, they forced the flight to go to Algiers. Koerner goes into great detail about their time in Algiers, and later in France, where Kerkow finally disappeared for good after she separated from Holder. She remains on an active warrant issued by the F.B.I. The irony here is that both 'DB Cooper' and Cathy Kerkow got away with their hijackings, but the F.B.I. could never catch either of them, and they had an advantage because they knew Kerkow's entire history. Picking France to disappear was a brilliant move on Kerkow's part, because she not only spoke the language fluently, but took advantage of a country (at that time) that looked the other way on politically-motivated hijackings. It was also a time when obtaining a passport or new I.D. under a new name was reletively easy to do. Koerner asserts in the book that this is probably what happened to Cathy Kerkow, and that she is living a genteel life today, most likely married, in either France or another country in Europe. It is unlikely she will ever be called to justice.
For fans of the 'D.B. Cooper' hijacking mystery, 'The Skies Belong to Us,' is great entertainment. It could be better than the Cooper story, because readers come to know and understand Kerkow and Holder, who were real people with actual lives and histories. D.B. Cooper was only a mystery. Kerkow and Holder have an actual STORY.
'The Skies Belong to Us' includes many pictures and illustrations, which was certainly a bonus. Kudos to Brendan Koerner.
It's an amazing book that tells a story few know about.
Holder and Kerkow were a deeply odd couple, united mostly by their love of drugs. Holder used them to salve the psychic wounds of a life scarred by systemic racism and the Vietnam War, Cathy used them because they were fun. A one-time small-town Oregon good girl (she was track teammates with Jeff Prefontaine), she grew up to become a party girl in hippie San Francisco. Through much more luck than planning or skill (they were almost thwarted by their own idiocy), they managed to pull off stealing an airplane and get $500,000 hard currency to take with them. Although their original plan was to head to southeast Asia, when that got derailed, Holder chose to head to Algeria. From there, the couple headed to France, where Holder fell deeper into long-brewing mental illness and Kerkow propelled herself into the most exclusive social circles she could find. While the pair eventually split and Holder returned to the US, Kerkow is still living the life of an international fugitive from justice to this day.
Although I certainly recall life before the TSA, I don't recall life before any sort of airport security at all. Which is apparently how it used to be for a long time, even after all this constant hijacking nonsense! The airlines pitched a fit about even the most minor screening measures because they didn't want to inconvenience their customers! Which, coming from a time in which little girls are bounced from flights because they're wearing leggings and ticketed customers are dragged off flights and beaten, seems literally crazy. I mean, there are definitely things about that time that I 100% don't want to go back to, but given what we hear about the actual efficiency of TSA at actually finding any sort of dangerous material, it seems like maybe considering the idea of lighter security (like PreCheck, but for everyone!) should be on the list of things to do.
Koerner does a very solid job of balancing all of the elements in his book: the state of the country as a whole at the time, the prime hijacking era and highlighting some illustrative vignettes (including one set right here in Reno where the banks were already closed after the money demand was made so the casinos ponied up the cash), and the story of Roger and Cathy. No one story thread feels irritatingly dominant, and Koerner's treatment of hijacking never feels like cheap drama being played up for shock value. The frequency of hijacking in that era was shocking enough and he's assured enough to let it speak for itself. That he was able to interview Roger before his death definitely helps in creating portraits of the central hijacker and his long-ago girlfriend as actual people and not caricatures. It's a very readable, enjoyable look at a phenomenon that happened not actually that long ago that I'd had NO idea about.
As time progresses, we see the hijackings representing more calculated acts of political violence, with losses of aircraft hulls and, in some instances, injuries and fatalities among passengers and crew.
What is quite telling is that the air carriers lobbied for more than a decade with vigour and malice against sensible precautions that could be used to prevent hijackings, with such measures including the use of metal detectors and checks on hand luggage. The lobbying was often carried out by Washington lobbyists, in a sadly prescient warning of the lobby group politics one sees today.
This meticulously researched work is essential reading for anyone interested in the origins of hijacking and modern terrorism, and is likely to make one nostalgic for the days before Palestinian, Arab and Irish terrorism became an unfortunate facet of modern life.
Top reviews from other countries
Hijackings were numerous, almost routine, events. At first most hijackers asked to go to Cuba, but the ease of taking over a flight led to different causes being attracted to this desperate measure - from the Black Panthers to disgruntled members of society. 1972 was the most frenzied year, with 40 hijackings in the US. This book tells the story of those years and the many stories - from the tragic to the bizarre (one couple hijacked a plane accompanied by their baby, ordering a bemused stewardess to crochet the infant a hat when they took control of the aircraft). The book also follows in detail the young couple, a traumatised ex soldier and a party girl, whose ill thought out hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701 helped lead to airlines finally tightening security.
By 1973 the first airport security queues were in place; travellers gratefully accepting restrictions for greater peace of mind. There were isolated events, but no hijackings in American airspace (obviously there were such hijackings around the world) from 1991. Indeed, security was again viewed as an expensive nuisance until the tragedy of 9/11. However, what makes this book so interesting are the human stories behind the outbreak of hijackings in the early 1970's, when a lone hijacker could easily command a huge audience, and possible financial gain, for their cause.