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Alexander P. De Seversky and the Quest for Air Power by James K. Libbey, Potomac Books, Washington, D.C., 2013, $39.95

 This long-overdue biography of Alexander P. de Seversky is a remarkable accomplishment—wonderfully written, filled with detail and obviously a labor of love. The project was extraordinarily difficult because so much of de Seversky’s personal material was destroyed. But by linking the biography to a detailed exposition on air power from World War I to beyond de Seversky’s death in 1974, Libbey has created a fascinating, readable book. It conveys virtually all there is to know about the Russian ace, pilot, designer, prophet and sadly inept businessman.

The author uses another device to overcome the lack of detailed personal information by adding a “Reflections” section to each chapter. In these he comments on what might be missing, what else might be included, and explains anomalies with the facts and with some of de Seversky’s later written and oral statements. This “reflection tool” could very well be employed in other biographical offerings.

De Seversky’s life was filled with challenges overcome, from flying inadequate Russian aircraft to losing a leg—and continuing to participate in combat flights— all while patenting ideas on advanced technologies. Always dealing with an uncertain income, he swung like a trapeze artist from one financial crisis to another, somehow managing to earn enough to live lavishly.

Libbey hits the right notes in all cases, whether he’s assessing the merits of de Seversky’s designs, the validity of his prophecies or his business acumen. The depth of research is evident in the mass of notes accompanying each chapter. This speaks all the more to the quality of his writing, for he never fails to keep your attention. I believe every reader, no matter how familiar with previous works on de Seversky, will be impressed by the amount of revealing detail included here, and by the adroit manner in which Libbey has woven this into an equally valuable account of the quest for air power. Most people associate de Seversky’s foresight with the book and film Victory Through Air Power. Although that is the most fa mous of his predictive efforts, he greatly surpassed it in his subsequent assessments of such things as the true effects of nuclear power, the Cold War and developments in space.

This book is highly recommended for all readers, and every library should include it on their shelves. It is wonderfully refreshing to read about how the patriotic Russian Alexander P. de Seversky became a true American hero.

Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.