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Search tags: Memoirs-and-Biographies
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review 2018-09-15 02:23
Best Foot Forward - Colin Hodgkinson

"BEST FOOT FORWARD" is Colin Hodgkinson's story of the long struggle he waged after surviving an air crash while in training with the Fleet Air Arm in May 1939 -- and sustaining life-altering injuries that would have humbled a lesser person --- to resume as normal a life as possible. As part of this process, Hodgkinson --- with the great Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter ace and Wing Leader Douglas Bader (who, despite having similar life-altering injuries, was able to resume flying with the RAF upon the outbreak of war in September 1939) as a prime example and inspiration --- was given the opportunity to resume flight training with the Fleet Air Arm. 

Subsequently, Hodgkinson was able to wrangle a transfer to the RAF, where he successfully completed a rigorous flight training program, and was assigned to a frontline fighter squadron late in 1942. 

Hodgkinson would fly the redoubtable Supermarine Spitfire in combat over Europe through most of 1943, manage to shoot down 2 enemy fighters in aerial combat, and survive a stint as a prisoner of war before being repatriated to the UK in late 1944. This book is essentially a recapitulation of Hodgkinson's life from a childhood in the English countryside to the early postwar years. It has both a forthrightness and eloquence which makes for rewarding reading.

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review 2018-09-08 07:14
Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History - Keith O'Brien

This book sheds light on the unsung contributions made by women pilots to aviation between 1927 and 1937, a time often referred to as the Golden Age of Aviation. Its focus is on 5 women aviators of the 1920s and 1930s (i.e., Louise Thaden, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Nichols, whose pilot license was signed by aviation pioneer Orville Wright himself) and their struggles to gain acceptance and respect in the field of aviation. Aviation in its early days was considered more of a "man's sport" and women were discouraged from being a part of it. But these women -- many of whom proved to be extraordinary fliers in their own right --- were made of sterner stuff. These 5 women persisted - and some of them paid the ultimate price for that. 

The only quibble I have with this book is the author's frequent use of the word 'airship' in place of 'airplane'. By common understanding in the aviation industry, 'airship' refers to a 'dirigible', a lighter-than air machine. For that reason, I've taken a star away from what otherwise would have been a 5-star rating.

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review 2018-09-01 23:00
Helmut Wick: An Illustrated Biography of the Luftwaffe Ace and Commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 during the Battle of Britain - Herbert Ringlstetter

This is one of the best illustrated biographies of a renowned fighter pilot that I've yet read. This book is replete with a wealth of fascinating photos that spans Helmut Wick's life, from his birth in 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, thru his flight training days, and on to Wick's rise as the Luftwaffe's premiere fighter ace culminating in his death in aerial combat near the Isle of Wight on November 28, 1940. There are also 3 appendices at the back of the book containing a list of Helmut Wick's confirmed (and unconfirmed) aerial victories, a "brief description of the aircraft types shot down by Wick", and illustrations of aircraft Wick flew as well as those of the enemy he faced in combat in 1939 and 1940.

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review 2018-08-31 08:19
The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris - Tom Sancton

I was attracted to "THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris" by its cover. It caught my eye in a local independent bookstore several weeks ago. I weighed the book carefully in my hands and glanced through its pages before deciding to buy it. What an unexpected merry ride this book has given me! 

"THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR" at its heart is a story about a scandal that arose over the past decade from one of France's wealthiest families (who normally kept a very low profile). It was a scandal that began as a family drama between mother (Liliane Bettencourt, daughter of Eugène Schueller [1881-1957], a pharmacist by profession who founded L'Oréal, "the world's leading company in cosmetics and beauty" products -- who herself was one of the world's wealthiest women) and daughter (Françoise Bettencourt Meyers) which, once leaked to the press in France, became a major scandal touching upon politics and L'Oréal's shadowy history, as well as the family's murky secrets arising out of the Second World War. This book had many layers that captivated my interest and read at times like a spellbinding thriller. 

Before reading "THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR", I knew very, very little about L'Oréal. For me, it was a simply a name of some big cosmetics company that dealt with beauty and fashion whose products I had seen advertised on TV over the years. Thank you, Tom Sancton, for this book. It's truly impressive and reflects well the research that went into its creation and development. The author taught me a lot and deepened my already wide-ranging fascination with French history and culture. This book is a keeper.

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review 2018-08-20 16:36
Ian Fleming / Andrew Lycett
Ian Fleming - Andrew Lycett


***2018 Summer of Spies***

If you are a feminist who is planning to read any of the James Bond books, I would highly recommend that you also read this biography of their author, Ian Fleming. Knowing his background changes nothing in the novels, but at least gives the reader some glimpse of why they contain the prejudices that they do.

Fleming’s life is an excellent example of that old adage “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” I am hardly an apologist for Mr. Fleming, but his circumstances certainly made him into the man and author that he was. His father died when he was young and he was left with only an extremely controlling egocentric mother. If I’m reading between the lines correctly, Ian was an introvert, perfectly happy by himself, but forced by his social position and extroverted relatives to try to conform to the extrovert ideal. He loved comfortable living, with plenty of cards, cigarettes and liquor, but didn’t have the family money to rely on. Work was definitely a bore that he had to perform in order to support his desired lifestyle. The only time he really engaged was during his stint in Naval Intelligence during WWII. Finally, he had discovered a job that used his ability to make contacts across ranks, classes and nationalities.

However, if Fleming didn’t see a benefit coming to him from someone, he could be incredibly rude and cutting. I look at photos of the man and I cannot imagine how he achieved the parade of young women through his bedroom, but he must have exuded charm to them. When one hostess took him to task for his treatment of one of her friends, calling him a cad, he replied, “You’re quite right, Mrs. Leitner. Shall we have a drink on it?” Which they did and became friends. He was known to tell people that women were on parr with dogs for him.

Fleming seems to have been happiest when he was involved with other men’s wives. All of the benefits with few of the headaches of relationships. Eventually, when he married Ann, it was after a 14 year affair with her. Ann was pregnant with Ian’s child when her husband lost patience with the situation and divorced her. Although Ian initially tried hard, he had lived alone for too long and was too much a solitary man to be able to live comfortably with anyone, but particular with an extrovert like Ann. He seems to have married someone much like his mother. Ann had cheated with him for many years and when the marriage waters got rough, she repeated this pattern. Fleming was hurt, but the shoe was on the other foot and what could he say?

This is the secret sauce that produced James Bond. Bond is as misogynistic as Fleming himself. Although Fleming was chained to a desk during his Naval Intelligence years, Bond could explore all of Ian’s spy fantasies. Fleming was a card player and golfer and so is Bond. They shares tastes in liquor, cigarettes, food, cars, and general standard of living. Fleming mined his own life for the details of the books. Some of the best passages, in my opinion, are when he describes the natural environment, as in the diving scenes in Live and Let Die.

By and large, Fleming seems to have been a restless, unhappy man. His work during WWII seems to have been his happiest period, which is perhaps why he chose to write in the espionage genre. He self-medicated with alcohol and nicotine and escaped his life through golf and cards. He became the creepy old man at parties that young women warned each other about.

The continued interest in Bond would probably amaze him—he endured the scorn of his wife’s literary circle and the outrage of conservative reviewers and was continually considering terminating Bond. The enormous success of the books came largely after his death, although he had made enough money in his last years to be angry about the self-imposed health problems which would kill him early, preventing him from enjoying the fruits of his labour.

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