Skies of Thunder

Skies of Thunder by Caroline Alexander

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Skies of Thunder:

Catch-22 only real life.

Quick synopsis:

The story of World War II pilots flying routes over the Himalayas.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

There are currently nearly 600 planes lying where they crashed along the route.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

When British forces took over Burma around 1885, they were extinguishing a kingdom which was over one thousand years old.

My Take on Skies of Thunder:

And I thought Boeing was a mess. Then I read Caroline Alexander’s Skies of Thunder and apparently it could be worse.

Alexander looks at an often-ignored area of World War II which was the Burma/India/China theater. I have read a lot of World War II books and the missions talked about in this book are, at best, footnotes in most others. Alexander also paints a very clear picture of why! The entire theater was a mess of egos, bad planning, extreme danger, and negligible effects on World War II as a whole. The book can be broken down into two stories. One is much stronger than the other.

The weaker story is everything that is not about the pilots and missions over “the Hump.” The ground missions and personality conflicts take up a large portion of the narrative and it does not have the narrative propulsion by itself. Alexander is a gifted writer, and she never skimps on research. For this part of the story, however, I wish she would have shortened it just a bit. I wasn’t mad or tempted to skim, but I wanted to get back to the pilots fighting their planes. Yes, I mean fighting their planes.

Pilots flying over “the Hump” were clearly in a catch-22 situation. Only crazy people would do it, but if you are scared of flying then you are clearly not crazy. Alexander’s story truly soars (pun intended!) in these sections. She weaves in the pilot’s words and gives context for the nightmare that was these flights. The section on “That Night” is a perfect encapsulation of riveting writing. If you enjoy World War II stories at all, then this should be on your shelf.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Viking Books.)


Required reading for World War II buffs at the very least. Buy it here!

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