Book Review of Final Flight
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Book Review of: Final Flight

The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra

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Review of Final Flight, by Peter Stekel (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book was an interesting read. I like a good mystery, especially when it's an actual event.

The book was factual, well-researched, and written with an obvious passion for the subject. It was well-written, and the author stayed authentic to his sources. He didn't interpret or change source material to fit an unrelated agenda (or any agenda at all).

The author's editorial integrity became apparent to me after discovering my own mistake in the reading. I had originally mistaken a frequent misspelling as the fault of the author. He quoted directly from sources (including personal letters written by the crash victims), spelling errors and all. I kept reading "judgement" instead of "judgment" and was going to comment that the book needed proofreading. But then I read the word correctly spelled with no quotes. The author correctly spelled it with each of his own usages, but where quoting he left the warts alone.

This book stands out in many other regards. One of those is the detail. We see the author is presenting and explaining the facts, rather than giving us a conclusion to accept by faith. As a reader, I felt respected by the author.

Another way it stands out is this. It was unclear to me, until almost the very end, what the author's opinion was. He explored one theory after another, using such things as weather data and analysis to poke holes in the theory. I didn't feel like the author was cramming a viewpoint down my throat. I felt like the author was taking me by the hand and exploring the possible explanations for this crash.

This was no easy task. The author worked with a great deal of conflicting information. This could have been a head-spinning exercise in frustration for the reader, but it wasn't. The author sorted things out logically and in a manner that didn't confuse or tax the reader.

Many times when I finish a book, I find myself unconvinced of the author's viewpoint because the presentation is so one-sided. Read books on, for example, manmade global warming, and this is what you see. Not a convincing case with a solid examination of possible explanations, but just cherry-picked facts and leaps of logic.

I am not arguing whether the earth is warming or not, just using this as an example and wondering how the alleged "consensus of scientists" can explain why the ice caps on Mars are melting from human activity. Glaring holes are not things these kinds of authors even try to fill; they just hope you won't notice (as if you're stupid). Stekel, however, points out where the holes are and tells you why they can't be filled.

This author's respect for reality, integrity, and the reader greatly added to my enjoyment of this book. Perhaps what I enjoyed most was the human side of the story. The author put the reader in the mind of the pilot (and others). It all felt real, probably due to the detail in the writing and the passion in the writer.

I'm not particularly interested in plane crashes, so this story didn't have an inherent appeal to me from that angle. I almost didn't pick this book out, for that reason. But I noticed the author was a climber, and as I am also a climber that was enough to get me interested. As it turns out, he told a good story. In its telling, the author made me want to know more about rotors, downdrafts, cumulo-granite issues, WWII-era flight navigation, and other related topics. Then he delivered on that knowledge.

Well done.

This book consists of 18 chapters in 235 pages, plus a prologue. It includes maps and photos, too. The references section, unsurprisingly, shows exhaustive efforts at researching the book. As does the acknowledgements section.

Note on authenticity and research

Kudos to the author also for bucking the current trend of using a non-fiction book as an excuse to spew statist propaganda. This book, unlike most non-fiction titles today, was actually non-fiction.

The research for a good non-fiction book involves combing through secondary and tertiary sources. But unfortunately, many authors place heavy reliance on poor sources (the better to "support" the author's irrational political views that don't belong in the book in the first place). But this book heavily relies on authoritative sources, making adroit use of secondary and tertiary research.

A few really good books tap primary sources, sometimes involving the author's original research. This book relies heavily on primary sources, including the author's own discoveries (e.g., being on a climb in which his climbing partner found one of the missing bodies), his encyclopedic knowledge of the Sierras, interviews with experts on closely-related subjects, and interviews with other good sources.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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