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Sopwith Camel by Jon Guttman, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2012, $18.95

One of the risks of being a geezer is remembering what it was like so many years ago, when aircraft books were published at the rate of perhaps 10 or 15 a year, and most of them were rehashes of known material. It makes you sad when you get your hands on an absolute jewel of a book such as Aviation History research director Jon Guttman’s Sopwith Camel and realize how much you were missing all those years. Here, in one bundle—with incisive writing supplemented by superb photos, color profiles and cutaways—you get the true story of a great airplane. This may sound over the top, but it is nothing short of inspirational.

The book’s quality shows from front to back. Among its most interesting and effective aspects are the photo captions, which in a few brief sentences tell the story of the airplane, its pilot, the opponent’s plane and pilot and the story behind the color scheme. The photos and captions alone are worth the price of this book, but they are infinitely more valuable as the spice that gives unique flavor to the volume as a whole.

No matter how familiar you are with the story of T.O.M. Sopwith’s great aircraft, you will find new and interesting material here. Guttman takes you back to the first of the Sopwith breed, then quickly marches you through the design elements that came together to create an immortal fighter. In just 64 fact-filled pages, he provides a thorough technical analysis of each of the many variants and describes their operational role on the many fronts where they fought.

Books like this should be the guiding standard for the publishing industry. If that were so, we’d be less concerned about electronic devices replacing them.


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