23 July 2010

Defenders of the Air: Review of "Fighter Boys"

Fighter Boys: The Battle of Britain, 1940Fighter Boys: The Battle of Britain, 1940 by Patrick Bishop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, the Brits.

Normally, while I'm reading a book, I find myself pulled to a theme in my thoughts. For some reason, this book didn't get me on a single thought, so please excuse my disordered ramblings.

It is always amazing to me how very different the American and British views of the same events can be. This book is so much broader and yet seems much more genuine that Kershaw's The Few. I know Kershaw was focusing on a much smaller selection of pilots - the dozen or so Americans to participate in the Battle of Britain - but when his story is slotted in next to Bishop's broader (and yet shorter) history, it just feels pale in comparison.

The other part of reading a British author is the differing and increased vocabulary. The interviewed pilots casually mention "debagging" their squadron lead - I had just come across the term "debag" in Reading the OED where the (American) author had been surprised that the term and practice (better know in the Colonies as pantsing) was still in use in the early 20th century. It was only near the end of the book that a discovered that one pilot's constant "lurcher" companion was a dog, not his batman as I had thought (bad enough that I knew what a batman does - not chase criminals in Gotham City).

Finally, I must say it was a it disorienting to be reading about the Battle of Britain at the same time as reading The Hobbit to my daughter. To have the heroic Bard the bowman leading the archers of Laketown in a desperate rushed (and ultimately triumphant) defense against the depredations of the fire-breathing Smaug just seemed to echo the RAF too well. And remember, Tolkien published The Hobbit only two years after the Luftwaffe was even established.

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