The Unsubstantial Air is the gripping story of the Americans who fought and died in the aerial battles of World War I. Much more than a traditional military history, it is an account of the excitement of becoming a pilot and flying in combat over the Western Front, told through the voices of the aviators themselves. A World War II pilot himself, the memoirist and critic Samuel Hynes revives the adventurous young men who inspired his own generation to take to the sky. The volunteer fliers were often privileged - the sorts of college athletes and Ivy League students who might appear in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Hynes follows them from the flying clubs of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to training grounds in Europe and on to the front, where they learned how to fight a war in the air.
By drawing on letters sent home, diaries kept, and memoirs published in the years that followed, Hynes brings to life the emotions, anxieties, and triumphs of the young pilots. They gasp in wonder at the world seen from a plane, struggle to keep their hands from freezing in open air cockpits, party with actresses and aristocrats, rest at Voltaire's castle, and search for their friends' bodies on the battlefield. Their romantic war becomes more than that - a harsh but often thrilling reality.
©2014 Samuel Hynes (P)2014 Tantor
"Intimate and memorable portraits of these idealistic, daredevil young men are contained in a marvelously fluid narrative." (Kirkus)
The author did a good job researching the book, but it fails to gel into a solid connected work. It feels like a collection of different sources.
Add in a very "breathy" narrator who makes ever fact and event sound like call to emotion, and the whole becomes less than the sum of its parts.
It's still a good nonfiction reference on the first air war, it's just not the page turner it might have been.
I have read and re-read (listened to) this book. It's a marvelously well crafted story of the young pilots who bravely fought that first war in the air. Not just an historical recollection, this book draws on letters and diary entries from the pilots themselves, woven together with a narrative that keeps the reader fully engaged. A masterful book coupled with an outstanding audio performance. A must read for any aviator, aviation enthusiast, or student of history.
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