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The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight, by Winston Groom, National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2013, $30

 The great merit of this book by Winston Groom, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Forrest Gump, Shiloh 1862 and Vicksburg 1863, is the possibility that it will introduce aviation to people not already interested in the subject. Knowledgeable readers, however, will find it’s filled with errors, ranging from real howlers to familiar saws. All indicate that the author did not take his subject seriously.

Groom used the standard references on his chosen subjects, cherry-picking generous outtakes from the books of David Lewis, C.V. Glines and Scott Berg. These are often of a colorful and humorous nature, and don’t always relate to the aviation activities of the three great fliers he’s chronicling—but this is where the appeal to the general public will lie.

Groom introduces the three aviators consecutively, interspersing their accomplishments as time passes. There are a few instances when he can bring all three subjects into his narrative—for example, the trial of Billy Mitchell, the Baker Board and events leading to World War II. Throughout, Groom emphasizes his subjects’ accomplishments and soft-pedals their peccadilloes.

The most interesting section deals with World War II. Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid gets full coverage, with some mention of his later roles. The story of Rickenbacker’s crash in the Pacific also gets ample attention, as does Lindbergh’s service as a civilian aviation consultant.

But the book’s greatest charm will be for nitpickers (you know who we are). Faultfinders will relish jewels like the following: The 93rd Pursuit Squadron was the first American unit to enter combat in World War I; all the Fokkers Rickenbacker saw were “tri-wings”; Lindbergh stepped “out onto the wing” of his Spirit of St. Louis in Paris; Willy Messerschmitt told Adolf Hitler that the Me-262 could have been produced in 1938; and Charles “Lavine” owned Clarence Chamberlain’s famous Bellanca. There are many more, mostly of fact though some of context, but all are inexcusable.

Ironically, The Aviators will sell like hotcakes, as did Flyboys and others of its ilk. This tells us something about those who truly love aviation history: There are just not enough of us!