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Great War books for enjoyment and education

Suggested reading about World War 1 and early aviation for perspective on the Vintage Aero Flying Museum exhibits. 

Lafayette Flying Corps
Ace and pilot biographies
World War 1 history
Aviation history
Children's books
Hall and Nordhoff
Movies

LaFayette Flying Corps

The Vintage Aero Flying Museum is handled by the Lafayette Foundation, which is directed by Andy Parks and has a mission of commemorating the Lafayette Flying Corps and Lafayette Escadrille. Any understanding of US aviation in WWI has to start with the Lafayette Escadrille. Several books on the Lafayette Escadrille have come out recently and we are awaiting Andy's assessment on which are the best. Meanwhile, here are the original books by those who were there. 


Lafayette Flying Corps, Volumes 1 and 2

by James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Nordhoff

 

The definitive history written by the men who were there and well-known both as pilots and writers (see other Hall and Nordhoff books below). Hall was part of the original Lafayette Escadrille, Nordhoff was in the Lafayette Flying Corps.


The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille Told by Its Commander, Captain Georges Thenault 

by Georges Thenault

 

Enough said.


Ace and pilot biographies

Many of these have not been reprinted, and so can be very expensive to get. On the assumption you actually want to read the book, we are trying to link to the cheapest versions, not the collector's versions. But in some cases, there isn't much difference.


Ace of the Iron Cross

by Ernst Udet

 

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. The highest-scoring German ace to survive the war - second only to the Red Baron -  Ernst Udet is famous for having one of the few instances of an airplane with tail art - "Du doch nicht!!" which more or less means, "No you don't" with an extreme attitude. Udet was a colorful personality with a lot of good stories. 


Air of Battle (Kindle)

by William Fry

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. William Fry was a British ace and wing commander who flew in WWII also and lived well into his nineties. Memoir of the RFC in WWI.


Albert Ball, V.C. (Paperback, 2002 reprint)

by Chaz Bowyer

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. Albert Ball was one of the top British aces, famous as a scout pilot, and was killed before he turned 21.


Black Swallow of Death: The Incredible Story of Eugene Jacques Bullard, the World's First Black Combat Aviator (1972)

by P. J. Carisella and James W. Ryan

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. We really want this one to be reprinted. We paid $150 and it was worth it, but his story should be more widely available. America's first black pilot, honored by France, ignored in his own country, Bullard ran away from home before he was 8, found his way across the Atlantic at 11, got to France at 17 just before WWI started, fought in the trenches, flew in the Lafayette Flying Corps, ran a club in Paris after the war, and was with the French Resistance in WWII. At the end of his life he was an elevator operator in New York, where he was personally honored by Charles de Gaulle on a visit.


Flying Aces of World War I (1965)

by Gene Gurney

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. Overview of the top aces' stories.


Horses Don't Fly: The Memoir of the Cowboy Who Became a World War I Ace

by Frederick Libby

The cowboy pilot from Sterling, Colorado who became the - sort of - first American ace in the summer of 1915 (since he volunteered for the Canadian army, he was not an American citizen then.)  He got his first victory on his first combat mission, which also happened to be his birthday, and was a unique triple ace:  flying as an observer, a bomber pilot, and also a fighter pilot, he scored enough victories in each of the three positions to count as an ace.


No Parachute: A Fighter Pilot in World War I (Hardcover, 2013 reprint)

by Arthur Gould Lee

The normal, average, fighter pilot's experience of the air war, from a British pilot who was NOT a famous ace, but who did write some very interesting and entertaining letters home to his wife. From the foreword: "This book tells, in unpretentious words, written on the day, hot on the event, of the progress from fledgling to seasoned fighter of one of these young flyers of no fame."


Notes of a Lost Pilot (Hardcover, 1975)

by Jean B. Villard

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. The war from the perspective of an average French pilot.


The Red Baron: The Fabled Ace's Story in His Own Words (1969)

by Manfred von Richthofen

One of the books in the Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection. Maybe a ghostwriter's words, actually, but still it's the Red Baron's thoughts, moods, ideas. Also includes statements from his brothers and Roy Brown, a description of the Red Baron's funeral, and aircraft and victory statistics. The starting point for learning about Manfred von Richthofen.


Rickenbacker

by Edward V. Rickenbacker

A 480-page autobiography that could have been marketed as a boys' true-adventure story. It is written simply, with just a few parts young boys might skip over. But what more could you put in one adventure book than the hero being a top racecar driver, top ace, top salesman, top businessman, motivational speaker to WWII pilots, and survivor of two airplane crashes? In the first crash, as a boy we know likes to point out, his eyeball came out (but it got put back in.) In the second he was carrying secret material to a WWII commander in the Pacific and he was the hero of one of the longest to date survival-at-sea adventures. And that's just two of all the times he cheated death....


War Bird: The Life and Times of Elliott White Springs (Hardcover, 1987)

by Burke Davis

One of the particular recommendations of Andy Parks, director of the Vintage Aero Flying Museum, as an insight into what made up the typical WWI ace. Biography of the ace who ghostwrote Diary of an Unknown Aviator. Shows Springs as a proud and complex man; one of the best American aces with a clever pen and a genius for business who was famous for the double entendre scenes advertising his family textile business. Note, before leaving the book lying around, that one of these ads is shown on the back cover of the book.


War Bird Ace: The Great War Exploits of Capt. Field E. Kindley

by Jack Stokes Ballard

War Bird Ace book

Written by a friend of the Vintage Aero Flying Museum, this book covers the life of Field Kindley, one of America's top aces. Kindley flew in a unit adjoining Elliot White Springs; hence the similar "War Bird" titles. Interesting study in what makes a great ace, as before the war Kindley was a high-school dropout movie projectionist (but that's only half the story.)


War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator

by Elliott White Springs and John MacGavock Grider 

Another particular recommendation of Andy Parks, director of the Vintage Aero Flying Museum. Ghostwritten by ace Elliott White Springs, it was very popular and considered a classic description of the air war at the time it was published. We haven't read this yet ourselves, but here are some particularly striking quotes from the reviews on Amazon: "This is aerial warfare showing all of the tarnish on the knight's armor." "Two things stand out to me after reading this book: (1) their airplanes were awful....(2) so many men died in such a short time period, and most of the ones referenced in this book died in plane-related accidents." "The insights into the scant training of the fighter pilots, the conflict between the U.S. and British hierarchy and the maverick attitudes of the pilots help to take us through the actual experience of war in contrast to the 'dates and events' fed to us through history books."


World War 1 history

There is no shortage of books about WWI. Here is a list of a few we could say we find to be essential for an understanding of the subject. Or we could admit, we just like them.


The First World War

by Hew Strachan

Strachan is the winner of the 2016 Pritzker Literature Award, and you might say this is the shortest complete look, or the most complete short look at WWI. An overview of the who, why, what, where, when, and how of WWI. Strachan is especially good at explaining the "why" to those who know the war only as a popular synonym for "meaningless slaughter".


The First World War: To Arms

by Hew Strachan

Where to start if you want to know everything about WWI. This is the book which the above Strachan book is just a preview for. This is designed as the first in a three-volume work about the Great War by Scottish military historian Sir Hew Francis Anthony Strachan. This is World War I from the perspective of a century, consolidating a century's worth of perspectives, newly discovered sources, and hindsight for what didn't seem important at the time.


The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

by John M. Barry

Did anything good come out of WWI? The Great Influenza killed 5 to 10 times as many people as the Great War, yet very little is written about it. Maybe precisely because it was so sudden and terrible. One of the terrible things about it was those with a strong immune system died more often than the very old and very young. So...what if the flu had happened at a prosperous time in history? What if the world had not just spent four years pitting its best and strongest against each other in a wearisome struggle? Things to think about.


Sergeant York and the Great War

by Tom Skeyhill

Sergeant York is the famous conscientious objector who received the Medal of Honor. You can of course watch the 1941 movie Sergeant York and consider how it shows one generation's preparation of the next generation for war in Europe. But it's most interesting to read York's own story in his own dialect in this reprint of his journal.


In the Fields and In the Trenches

by Kerrie Logan Hollihan (2016)

One of our readers referred us to the readable and entertaining story of Frederick Libby in this book.


The Yanks Are Coming!

by H. W. Crocker III

An overview answering the questions, what did Americans do in the Great War, and why did it matter? Covers the major battles Americans were involved in and gives the life stories of major American names of the war (Pershing, York, Rickenbacker, etc.) as well as names of the war that weren't big in that war but were very big in the next one (Truman, MacArthur, Patton, etc.) More story than detailed history, so it is fun to read; especially seeing Billy Mitchell, the "Father of the USAF" refer to American planes as "animated kites."


Aviation history

There is a lot of aviation history in the pilot biographies, but here are some more general books covering a time when aviation technology progressed more in four years than in the following twenty years.


The 147th Aero Squadron in World War I - Aviation history of World War 1

by Jack Stokes Ballard and James John Parks

147 Aero Squadron book

Written by a friend of the Vintage Aero Flying Museum and the original collector of the museum's collection, this book covers the history of the 147th Aero Squadron, concentrating on the stories of Wilbert White and Ken Porter. Plans are to use this book as the guide for the upcoming tour of WWI aviation sites in France.


The Day the Red Baron Died: Final Proof That Ground Fire Brought von Richthofen Down (1970)

by Dale M. Titler

Everyone has a theory about how the Red Baron died. This book lines up well with what the founder of the VAFM collection, Dr. James Parks (yes, an actual MD) learned from an autopsy of Richthofen that he had access to, showing that a bullet severed the spine, instantly paralyzing Richthofen. Since the Dr.1 needs constant pilot action to fly straight, the fact that the tri-plane landed upright strongly suggests that the bullet that killed the Red Baron came from ground fire, after landing.


Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come out of World War I (2001 paperback reprint)

by Edward V. Rickenbacker

Much more detail about the air war in general and his part in particular than is covered in Rickenbacker's autobiography. Explains deadly events like stripped wings and engine fires, honors Frank Luke with the explanation of why a balloon is actually the hardest thing to shoot down, tells about Lufbery's death and Rickenbacker's feelings about those who thought parachutes weren't necessary, and lays out Quentin Roosevelt's new tactic for shooting down Germans.


Sky Battle 1914-1918: The Story of Aviation in World War I (1970)

by David C. Cooke

Overview of how the airplane went from wood-and-wire crates to close to what WWII pilots started with, in just four years.


Wind, Sand and Stars

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Yes, this is the guy who wrote the famous children's book The Little Prince. This is not a children's book, but it is good writing. And yes, Saint-Exupery was not quite in the WWI generation, but he was flying airmail shortly afterward, and vividly describes what it was like for pilots in those early aircraft, in storms and over the sea, at the time when safety regulations were being written in blood.


Children's books on WWI and aviation

The Vintage Aero Flying Museum owes its collection partly to the WWI aviation stories written for children which inspired by Dr. James Parks as a boy.


Biggles: The Camels are Coming (2014 paperback reprint)

by W. E. Johns

 

The first book in the "Biggles" series by a prolific author of boys' books. Johns knew something about war and aviation: as a British instructor pilot in WWI, he experienced engine failure, shooting off his own propeller, and becoming a prisoner of war.


Dave Dashaway the Young Aviator (Kindle version of a 1913 edition)

by Roy Rockwood

This is a Kindle version of a 1913 edition in the Parks collection; note that the airplane shown on the front is not much advanced from the 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk. Read this to see how an American boy of 1913 could have been inspired to be flying over France five years later. Roy Rockwood is a pseudonym for a syndicated series like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.


The Forbidden Forest (1978)

by William Pene du Bois

From the fact that this is dedicated to Jane Fonda and has a prologue that starts out "Wars, at best, are stupid struggles" you can guess this is from a pacifist perspective. But as long as you are prepared to explain to your children why millions of men would willingly die in a "stupid struggle," this is a funny book with great illustrations which makes the balloons, the uniforms, the guns, the names, the medals, and the aircraft of WWI memorable. You might have to do a bit of teaching real history to separate fact (the balloons did look that odd, and kangaroos did box) from fiction (a kangaroo didn't stop the war) because this book weaves improbable-but-true so well with not-quite-true. Another book by the same author (The Twenty-One Balloons (Puffin Modern Classics)) is probably the most memorable way to learn about early aviation in balloons, and Krakatoa.


Loopy (1941)

by Hardie Gramatky

Author and illustrator Hardie Gramatky is best known for his children's classic "Little Toot," but he grew up during WWI, and this book about a little hedgehopper illustrates (literally!) the challenges of flying with bad weather and a know-it-all for a pilot, in the days between the wars when airplanes were still a novelty.


Rilla of Ingleside

by L. M. Montgomery

Number 8 in the Anne of Green Gables series, this book shows how Anne's children's generation experienced WWI. Good picture of the home front in Canada; what the girls thought when the boys were away.


Hall and Nordhoff

Some of the books besides their Lafayette Flying Corps history which James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Norhoff published separately and together.


Falcons of France (1959 paperback)

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall


Kitchener's Mob (2016 paperback reprint)

by James Norman Hall


Mutiny on the Bounty (2015 paperback reprint)

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall


Men Against the Sea (2015 paperback reprint)

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall


Pitcairn's Island (2015 paperback reprint)

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall


Movies on WWI and aviation

As the Vintage Aero Flying Museum aircraft, collections, and expertise have been used for various aviation and WWI movies, Andy Parks has been less than impressed with digital dogfights' attempts to look real. Older movies tend to be better for showing aerial warfare as it really was.


Aces High (1976)

Another particular recommendation of Vintage Aero Flying Museum director Andy Parks, for its flying sequences. As it says it on the case, "High above the trenches 14 days is a long life...This is the 15th day!"


The Aviator (2004)

A movie about a real fanatic for getting aerial sequences right, so it is sort of ironic that the Vintage Aero Flying Museum's British SE5a is the only non-computer-generated aircraft flying in the scenes replicating the "Hell's Angels" movie. The movie portrays a very interesting personality who was a major figure in aviation, but who was far from family-friendly.


The Blue Max (1966)

Recommended by VAFM director Andy Parks for its flying sequences. Also shows the culture shifts behind the history of the world wars, contrasting the attitude of the upper class in Imperial Germany with the Uebermensch pragmatism more typical of the 1940s. Neither attitude is romanticized.

Interesting to consider how much of this movie would apply to the lower-class Ernst Udet, as Germany's second-best ace, and Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen, although mutual respect, not envy, actually marked their relationship. Not a family movie; some of the most interesting dialogue is hard to concentrate on while wondering how the female lead manages to pretend to be wearing a towel.


Flyboys (2006)

Inspired by the true story of the legendary Lafayette Escadrille. Just keep in mind that Hollywood is rarely inspired to stick very close to a true story. The flying sequences are digital, and look too smooth. But the Vintage Aero Flying Museum's collection of WWI artifacts, documents and memorabilia was referenced for the historical content of the movie.


Hell's Angels

Movie famous for the money spent on it by Howard Hughes, the tycoon, movie producer, and aviation industry giant, who insisted on getting the flying sequences right, but was not known for insisting on well-clothed women.


Sergeant York (1941)

The true-but-dramatized-in-Hollywood-ways story of Alvin York, the pacifist sharpshooter who received the Medal of Honor. Read the book (Sergeant York and the Great War (Men of Courage)) for the real story, but watch this family-friendly movie for entertainment and an introduction to the story. Also, since this was made in 1941, it is interesting to consider it as part of how the WWI generation told their sons (who were often the WWII generation) about the coming war in Europe.


Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965)

A fun way to learn about those early flying machines, and the magnificent men in them, and what European nationals thought of each other and Americans. Makes one consider what type of "frightfully keen" man would voluntarily fly. "They enchant all the ladies and steal all the scenes" so parents assuming this is a family movie should preview the French aviator's scenes. Best part: the French-German duel - in balloons - with blunderbusses - which will make it difficult to ever take a Pickelhaube seriously again.


Young Indiana Jones

 

Before there was Raiders of the Lost Ark - there was Indiana Jones on TV. Well, actually, in real time, it was many years after the movies, but whatever. Indiana Jones is shown as a boy, and later as a teenager fighting in WWI. The Vintage Aero Flying Museum collection was used as a source of historical research for these shows, but should not be held responsible for the historical likelihood of anyone being parachuted into Germany to convince Anthony Fokker to defect. And yes, Andy Parks has met George Lucas.


Planning to add more books to make this as complete a library as possible; check back!

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