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Publisher's Summary

Immediately after Japan's December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt sought to restore the honor of the United States with a dramatic act of vengeance: a retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo itself. In those early days of World War II, America was ill-prepared for any sort of warfare. But FDR was not to be dissuaded, and at his bidding a squadron of scarcely trained army fliers, led by the famous daredevil Jimmy Doolittle, set forth on what everyone regarded as a suicide mission.

The First Heroes is the story of this extraordinary mission, a moment in history that is surprisingly unfamiliar today. To give these heroes their due, Craig Nelson interviewed 20 of the surviving participants and researched more than 40,000 pages of archival documents.

Here is a true account of great personal courage and a powerful reminder that ordinary people, when faced with extraordinary circumstances, can rise to the challenge of history.

©2002 Craig Nelson (P)2003 Blackstone Audiobooks

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  • Overall
  • William
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 07-20-04

Heroic Attempt

This was an heroic attempt by the author to present a detailed recounting of what at the time was an heroic effort by the fledgling AAF to retaliate for Pearl Harbor and give the United States a psychological lift at the beginning of World War II after the U.S. had suffered defeat after defeat. It is long, it is detailed, it is tedious, yet most of it is good listening, but you have to want to hear it.
But, where do they get readers who pronounce "ensign" as "en sign" rather than "N-sn", or "cpl", the abbreviation for corporal as "c.p.l."? Would you believe "boatswain"?
I can't recommend this book to anyone unless they have an abiding interest in hearing the details of this mission, and what happened to each of the eighty crewmen who took part in the raid.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mark
  • Matawan, NJ, USA
  • 10-08-07

Sloppy naval research

I really, really wanted to like this book. I'd just finished Hornfischer's outstanding "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" and wanted some more inspirational reading. Unfortunately, the author has no - and I repeat no - required knowledge of the US Navy. There are many, many small, factual errors that are really annoying - referring to the HMS Repulse as a "cruiser", describing the Japanese torpedoes as "two feet long", etc, etc. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the US Navy in WW2 should have been given an opportunity to preview this book before publication. Additionally, his overuse of military jargon - bombs referred to as "cabbages", torpedoes as "eels" by such a rank amateur was just too much.

The narrator has no idea regarding correct pronunciation of naval terms - (en-sine, indeed.)

I find that when there are so many factual errors in an area that I'm familiar with, I have a tough time accepting the new - often interesting on its face - data that an author brings up. It's too bad that such a terrific topic couldn't have been treated more professionally. I read "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" as a kid and really was looking for some new information. I blame the editors completely for this second rate attempt.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good book, questionable narrator

This book satisfied my desire to know more about the Doolittle raid, and it was interesting to learn so much more about the aftermath than you normally encounter in books dealing with military actions. However, I gave the book only three stars because it is, indeed, distracting to hear "ensign" mispronounced literally dozens of times. Other mispronunciations reveal that the narrator has no familiarity with the subject matter, or military knowledge in general. Other examples of mispronunciations (in addition to those mentioned in the previous review) include, but are not limited to: Swigert (the Apollo astronaut), AFB (always read as letters, not "Air Force Base") and virtually every Japanese name, Fuchida Mitsuo being the worst.
The book was tedious in places, but I would recommend it for its coverage of facts you won't find anywhere else (at least not in one place).

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Doolittle Detail

This book is one that you love and hate. The detail of the Doolittle raid is great but the organization and editing of the book are poor. There is not much new here and it goes into much detail using legitimately copied sections from other Dolittle raid sagas such as "30 Seconds Over Tokyo". The narrator had obviously no military background with his mispronunciations of military rank and equipment which are extremely irritating. The audiobook is long and I slogged through but it was a chore. It only proves I will read or listen to anything involving the Doolittle raid.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • oakland, NJ, USA
  • 05-06-05


I am very much enjoying this selection for several reasons. First and foremost, it's a really good story that keeps you wanting more. At no point did it ever for a moment become slow.

As a historical reference it offers an excellent gateway to understanding, and wanting to learn more about the pacific campaign.

It does an excellent job covering both the tactical aspects of the raid, as well as the strategy shifts that Japan (wrongfully) adopted as a result of the raid.

What I really liked was that the author leads you in a very logical progression to the battle of Midway, where I'm going to continue on from here.

The reader did make some wackey reading errors, but that was offset by a nice smooth, well paced, and comfortable style.

I've heard a lot of books here on Audible, and this is clearly amoung my favorites. For that I am grateful to the author, the reader, and to Audible.

Thanks Guys!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ron
  • Lecanto, FL, USA
  • 08-02-07

insight to history that turns religious

The First heroes gives great insight and detail into the planning, execution and aftermath of the Doolittle Raid on Japan. You hear from the flyers involved, the planners and the Japanese point of views. It explores the history of the crews and what they endured after the raid.

However, near the end there seems to be a great deal of emphasis on how Christianity altered the flyers and allowed them to embrace and change their enemy. While I can understand that the comfort of God and religion can help some in difficult circumstances, it just seemed to dwell too much on this aspect.

There are also several significant fact errors in the book but none of importance to the overall material. These mostly deal with locations and or procedures

I still recommend First Heroes but be ready for religious preaching in the last quarter of the book.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Bill
  • Anchorage, AK, USA
  • 06-23-08


I found the text to be intelligently written and informative. I did not like the reader though. When quoting, he tried to sound like Bogie and other 40s and 50s charactors! He also made many quotes to sound like hick southerners with little education. I'm sure this isn't the case. There were also too many mispronounced words and places. I will be looking out for this reader in the future and avoid him.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

What Heroes we used to have!

If you could sum up The First Heroes in three words, what would they be?

The men of this mission were really brave men - I know is sounds stupid, but I cried several times during the reading - these guys gave it all!

What other book might you compare The First Heroes to and why?

None really

Have you listened to any of Raymond Todd’s other performances before? How does this one compare?


If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

We kicked Jap butt

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Outstanding - Ranks with Unbroken

What made the experience of listening to The First Heroes the most enjoyable?

This was an outstanding book undertaking both a panoramic view of the Doolittle raid, and well as a good study of the individuals involved.

What did you like best about this story?

I really appreciated the fact that the author did not cut out the spiritual aspects of some of the characters. Even including the part of Missionary John Birch's part in the rescue of Jimmy Doolittle.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

This is a great story, and well done. Definitely too long for one sitting.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Stay away from this one

Would you try another book from Craig Nelson and/or Raymond Todd?

Do yourself a favor and stay away from this audio book. The author was clearly out of his league in attempting to write about anything related to aviation, and the narrator makes it even worse. The factual errors and mispronunciations left me laughing and cringing at the same time. The author takes deep excursions into subjects that are so far from the Doolittle Raid, you wonder if you have accidentally downloaded the wrong book. Sorry to be so harsh, but other readers/listeners need to be warned not to waste your money on this one. The books by Carroll V. Glines are the best ever written on the Raid. His work was so valuable, they made him an honorary member of the Raiders. Read his books if you can.