On a Wing and a Prayer

  • by Joshua Levine
  • Narrated by Joshua Levine
  • 11 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Few are aware of the risks that the pioneering airmen of the First World War took. On a Wing and a Prayer is a narrative history that conveys the perils of those early days, the thrills of learning to fly, and the horrors of war in the air at a time when pilots carried little defensive armament and no parachutes. In 1914 aircrafts were a questionable technology, used for only basic reconnaissance. But by 1918, hastened by the terrible war, aircraft were understood to be the future of modern warfare. The war changed flying forever. The stories are presented to the reader in a frank and open way, revealing the feelings of the men who defended the trenches from above and witnessed the war from a completely different perspective.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A gem of engaging personal accounts

I have literally just finished listening to this book and was moved to write up a quick review straight away. This book is absolutely spell-binding...

The major thing that struck me was the humour - admittedly sometimes dark - that surrounded these flyers. They all knew they lived on a knife edge yet often saw the comic in the absurdity of their existence.

The author brings in a breath of fresh air to this historical account and makes these commentaries modern and accessible, and thus makes the whole process of this fledgling air warfare completely understandable.

As you might imagine there is a lot of tragedy to the accounts and - becoming of this miserable war - a sense of wasted young lives - but as so often true of the darkest moments you also see the best side of humanity as well.

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of this is that air war at this point was at a cross-roads between the Victorian and modern age, and the attitudes and characters are an intriguing mix of the 'old school' and very modern. They express themselves both in a very contemporary and obsolete way, which tells us a lot about the Great War, why it was fought and why it was fought the way it was.

Above all the accounts of the air combat are enthralling. But I would say exciting is the wrong word, as there is not feeling that this was in any way a great adventure, but rather a deadly endeavor. You are most definitely not left entertaining any illusions about how wonderful or romantic it would have been to be a WW1 flying ace.

Terrific stuff.

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- Stephen

Misses the mark by a mile...

I'm quite an avid fan of all things aeronautical, and so was looking forward to this title. I'm still not quite sure what happened but I think a lot of my problem withn this book is the narrator Joshua Levine.

I think most people are aware of the great dangers faced by the earlier aviators and that almost half of those killed during the Great War actually died in training, so basic was the technology of the time. But all of this is lost as Mr Levine's book paints a picture of a Royal Flying Corps that is little more than an exclusive boys club for the priviledged classes, where working class people have no hope of joining and enrolment depends solely on if one went to the 'right' school or had relatives in Whitehall.

Rather than describe the conditions during training and then how these young men were dropped straight into battle with frighteningly few hours of flying under their belts, we get endless tales of arrogant public school 'chaps' treating the whole thing as a bit of a lark. All of this is only made worse by Mr Levine's reading, and the feeling that he finds this all 'frightfully admirable'.

Whilst I'm sure Mr Levine's book is, sadly, a very accurate picture of how things were back then, I would've preferred some balance from the 'old school chums off on a spiffing adventure' tone.
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- Colin

Book Details

  • Release Date: 22-06-2009
  • Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks