• The Flying Tigers

  • The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan
  • By: Sam Kleiner
  • Narrated by: Stephen Graybill
  • Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Asia
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (337 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

The thrilling story behind the American pilots who were secretly recruited to defend the nation’s desperate Chinese allies before Pearl Harbor and ended up on the front lines of the war against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Sam Kleiner’s The Flying Tigers uncovers the hidden story of the group of young American men and women who crossed the Pacific before Pearl Harbor to risk their lives defending China. Led by legendary army pilot Claire Chennault, these men left behind an America still at peace in the summer of 1941 using false identities to travel across the Pacific to a run-down airbase in the jungles of Burma. In the wake of the disaster at Pearl Harbor, this motley crew was the first group of Americans to take on the Japanese in combat, shooting down hundreds of Japanese aircraft in the skies over Burma, Thailand, and China. At a time when the Allies were being defeated across the globe, the Flying Tigers’ exploits gave hope to Americans and Chinese alike.

Kleiner takes listeners into the cockpits of their iconic shark-nosed P-40 planes - one of the most familiar images of the war - as the Tigers perform nail-biting missions against the Japanese. He profiles the outsize personalities involved in the operation, including Chennault, whose aggressive tactics went against the prevailing wisdom of military strategy; Greg “Pappy” Boyington, the man who would become the nation’s most beloved pilot until he was shot down and became a POW; Emma Foster, one of the nurses in the unit who had a passionate romance with a pilot named John Petach; and Madame Chiang Kai-shek herself, who first brought Chennault to China and who would come to visit these young Americans. 

A dramatic story of a covert operation whose very existence would have scandalized an isolationist United States, The Flying Tigers is the unforgettable account of a group of Americans whose heroism changed the world, and who cemented an alliance between the United States and China as both nations fought against seemingly insurmountable odds.

©2018 Sam Kleiner (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“In the dark days after Pearl Harbor, a swashbuckling band of volunteer pilots gave America something to cheer about with their exploits against the Japanese in far-off China. Through long-lost letters and diaries, Sam Kleiner has brought these gallant warriors to life. The Flying Tigers is a rousing tale that will keep you turning the page.” (Evan Thomas, New York Times best-selling author of Sea of Thunder)

“This is a movie waiting to be made - a great adventure story that is all the more gripping because it really happened. These pilots remind us of why we’re proud to be American, ordinary young men who became heroes at a time when American victories were scarce. Some were killed, leaving their hometowns grieving. Some spent years as prisoners of the Japanese, uncertain whether they’d ever make it home again. All should be remembered. Kleiner is a gifted researcher and storyteller. He does the story of these men justice, and that is saying something.” (Michael Punke, number-one New York Times best-selling author of The Revenant

The Flying Tigers is a meticulously researched work of history that reads like a thriller. Packed with characters that come off the pages, it draws the reader into a world of dare-devil flying and covert operations in China in the opening days of World War II. The Flying Tigers marks the debut of an incredibly talented new historian and is a must-read not only for World War II aficionados but for anyone who likes a good story. It is full of them.” (Amy Chua, Yale Law professor and New York Times best-selling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes

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Very one-sided account of Flying Tigers

In the 21st Century, WW2 historians should gain access to archives from all sides, and then use this information to illuminate how each belligerent chose the actions that they did. Outstanding examples from the Pacific War are Zimm’s Pearl Harbor study, or Parshall/Tully’s Shattered Sword, a terrific examination of Midway. One could add Lundstrom and Claringbould to this list, with their detailed cross-analysis of Japanese and Allied flight records.
Unfortunately, Sam Kleiner does no such heavy lifting. Instead, his re-telling of the Flying Tigers story is a one-sided “Noble Americans vs. Evil Japanese” version of the tale. He never mentions who the Japanese commanders and pilots were, nor describes the aircraft that they flew in any detail. They are instead just a faceless brutal enemy who exist only as counterpoint to the brave actions and pure motivations of the Americans. Exacerbating this slanted perspective is the fact that reams of data now indicate massive aerial-kill overclaiming by all sides during the war. In spite of this well-established phenomenon, Kleiner doggedly chooses to accept at face value the inflated claims made by American mercenary pilots without bothering to cross-check these against Japanese records. That choice serves to further valorize the Flying Tigers by presenting their lopsided overclaim-tainted kill-ratio as historical certainty. Such determined hero-worship appears to be Kleiner’s primary motivation for writing this book, and he allows it to overshadow disciplined research.
In these ways, his work reminded me of older WW2 histories that I read as a kid back in the 1970s, all rah-rah and “ Go USA!” in tone. if cheerleading “our” team is the sort of presentation that you’re looking for, then this book will work for you. However, if you want a more nuanced study of this period that also tries to comprehend the motivations and experiences of the Japanese, then you should steer clear of this jingoistic back-patter.

2 people found this helpful

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This really happened.

The oral history I grew up hearing directly from 3rd Squadron Wingman Catfish Raine is alive in this book. Well written, missing a few nuggets of history, but overall excellent. An amazing adventure that became a campaign to save a people.

2 people found this helpful

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A moving testimonial to a great group of individuals!

I found this book to be an awe inspiring tribute to a group of individuals that had achieved great fame, but the fame was largely mythic until now. To have the actual story brought to life in great detail with all of the human failings attached to such a heroic endeavor was enlightening and informative. It is another example of the achievements by our greatest generation. This book allows that legend may live on.

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Great history, great story!

The flying tigers is a fascinating listen! I learned so much about this often overlooked history. Book is well written, with fun anecdotes throughout that make you feel like the flying tigers are old friends.

2 people found this helpful

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Great story with Airplanes!

Great story. Not easy to pay attention to as some other aviation stories but it was worth reading a subject that not everyone knows about.

1 person found this helpful

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Very inspiring story

Excellent book. I had recently finished the book by Greg "Pappy" Boyington, which included many references to his days with the Flying Tigers. This book helped to fill out the story of the legendary group. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot about their daring exploits.

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Incredible

What a history lesson on an incredible group of volunteers. Could not stop listening.

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Good History of AVG

Much of the story is still untold, but this version is one to hear, and remember.

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Great story

loved it .... a time capsule of a story taking you back to the very beginning of an adventure for young pilots...before, during and after ww2

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True heroes

I thoroughly enjoyed the content and performance of this book. It was like reading an action novel. I recommend this book to others.