Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
Extraordinary story; great writing that could've been even better
on August 12, 2012
This is a phenomenal book, and I want to stress that the few criticisms I'm going to offer should not dissuade people from picking this up and reading it. With help from co-writer Leo Janos, Ben Rich has written a fascinating account of one of the most secretive and successful "black projects" outfits in American military history.
Lockheed's "Skunk Works" was responsible for developing the P-38, but its real fame began to build as it concentrated on spy planes during the Cold War, specifically the U2 and the SR-71 Blackbird. Rich's account of the conception, construction and deployment of these two iconic aircraft is absolutely ... well, pun intended here ... RIVETING. The narrative is exciting; how could it not be? Here you had a secretive division of a major aeronautical contractor working on planes that would change the course of world history, and this division was facing deadlines, problems with materials, difficulties in coming up with new construction methods, and on and on. The Blackbird's use of titanium alone proved a major engineering hurdle, given how difficult that metal is to work with, but Skunk Works pulled it off...and the Blackbird remains the FASTEST air-breathing aircraft ever constructed, years after its retirement!
Two brief criticisms: One, the "other voices" interludes sometimes break up the narrative flow a bit too much. But Rich being what he was -- the second leader of a highly complex organization -- would naturally feel drawn to this kind of structure, in which value is placed on multiple viewpoints. Two, and I can't believe I'm writing this: Most books, if length is a problem, suffer from being too long. With "Skunk Works," I was hoping it would last even longer. Again, though, the book's concision is indicative of its author's personality; Rich was a "get it done" kind of guy who belied the image of a greedy contractor stretching out a project for as long as possible. Skunk Works prided itself on making or even beating deadlines, and thus Rich the author wasn't going to write a bloated book.
This is just a terrific read, especially for anyone interested in how successful organizations of any kind work, how America truly did win the Cold War, and how complexity challenges people with creative minds.