by Bill Yenne, Berkley Caliber, New York, 2009, $25.95.
Bill Yenne’s name on the cover is reason enough to buy this book, since he has produced a seemingly unending series of high-quality books that could serve as foundation stones for any aviation library. Aces High is Yenne’s dual biography of two of America’s greatest fighter aces, Dick Bong and Tommy McGuire. Either aviator is worthy of a book of his own, but the nature of their personalities, and especially of their combat careers, gives Aces High a synergy, an energy and a rationale that make it required reading for World War II buffs.
Both men died far too young in the service of their country. Yenne deftly charts their transition from “Boys” in part one of his book to “Warriors” in part two, and this is really a capsule description of their lives. From perfectly ordinary backgrounds, America produced two warriors who would become fierce rivals in two races: The first race was to supplant Eddie Rickenbacker as America’s ace of aces, and the second was each man’s effort to secure that title for himself. The Warriors section for the most part chronicles the month-by-month activities of Bong and McGuire as they honed their flying skills and adjusted to their weapon, the beautiful Lockheed P-38, and then their twin meteoric rise to fame.
Yenne writes with authority, providing the facts but also occasionally demolishing myths. He recounts both pilots’ victories as well as their last flights, McGuire in combat, Bong during a test flight, in a succinct style. In the final section, “Remembrance,” Yenne deals expertly with sensitive issues—the effects of these two heroes’ careers and their deaths on their wives and families, and he does it in perfect taste.
Aces High is a very satisfying book on all counts—one that will, I predict, become a classic in years to come.
Originally published in the January 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.