Among the many virtues of John Lancaster’s delightful The Great Air Race is how vividly it conveys the entirely different world of aviation at the dawn of the industry, a century ago ... My favorite book about Antarctic exploration is The Worst Journey in the World, by the British writer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a survivor of a doomed expedition in 1910. The Great Air Race has the same horrific but heroic fascination. Page by page you think, What else can go wrong? Page by page, you want to learn more ... This is Lancaster’s first book. But he deftly pulls off some tricks that are harder than they seem. He embeds social, economic and political history as he writes...A history of industrial policy is painlessly woven into the narrative ... I have read a lot about aviation and the aircraft industry over the years, but almost everything in this tale was new to me. You might take it on your next airline flight, pause to look out the window and spare a thought for those who helped make it all possible.
Although the race took place during peacetime, Lancaster is in solid military-history territory as he recounts Mitchell’s background and discusses aviation success during WWI and the plan to use the race to prove that airplanes would be essential to the military of the future. The race itself was fraught with peril, and the author recounts in great detail the inherent struggles of trying to fly cross-country when there were no navigational aids, and the weather could prove deadly. In the end, there were numerous crashes, injuries, and fatalities, and Lancaster covers all of it, making for thrilling reading. The book also includes outstanding photographs. An excellent read for those interested in aviation, the military, and American history.
... a compelling book that succeeds by giving this chapter in history its due without overselling its significance ... At a moment when air travel has become a nightmare of flight delays, missed connections and vanishing legroom, it is refreshing to return to an era when taking to the skies meant adventure and freedom.