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Empires of the Sky

3 June 2020

Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World, Alexander Rose, 2020, ISBN 987654321, 599 pp.

Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World by Alexander Rose

The countdown number (á lá NASA) of the ISBN is a good omen about the value of this book! Rose has a marvelous approach to this early phase of aviation’s Golden Era—the exciting and unpredictable period when airship travel ruled over propeller driven airline routes and ocean liners were the standard by which all were judged. Count von Zeppelin working with now famous designers of Maybach and Daimler to produce a paradigm setting airship design leagues ahead of previous airship company works. The Wright brothers working separately from the Count but concurrently arriving at the same methodology as Zeppelin to identify individual items, solving for those and harmonizing the resulting solutions. Juan Trippe dreaming of airline global travel in what would become Pan American Airways and setting the mold for all future airlines which we know today. The story of Zeppelin’s most famous pilot, Hugh Eckener, coming to be is a remarkable story and one of the many subplots in this book which keeps the reader’s fascinated as this story unfolds in all its surprising twists and turns.

Rose has an approach that places the reader into the room, so to speak, as each designer delves into individual challenges and strategizes solutions. It is wonderful to experience these discoveries seemingly first hand, though vicariously. Early flights and their often disastrous ends are experienced in the same way. He writes not in a dry fashion but in an interpretive and wondrous way. This is not history explained—it is history making in process. The story of passenger travel via airships (Zeppelin) versus airplane travel (Juan Trippe) is tumultuous and was affected by world events unpredicted and not in control of these industry magnates. How they reacted to these inputs is fascinating on entirely other levels given the differing cultures, philosophies and governmental influences.

In Empire of the Skies, Rose has many gifts for the reader aside from his thorough and wonderful telling of this often mercurial pace in aviation’s development. He has a complete index as well as thorough bibliography and notes section. The description of earlier aviation experimentation is marvelous, though not addressing Asian efforts, and is the book in itself.

This book is not only about history—it is about how history occurs, the human dimension of it. As we all suspect, whenever people become involved any linear nature of history unfolding disappears quicker than cookies within reach of children.

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