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Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World Hardcover – 7 Oct 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition Reprint edition (7 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571247946
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571247943
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 200,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An exhilarating book. Empire of the Clouds is by turns, thrilling, joyful, wistful and provocative. Bravery and beauty somehow escape the incompetence and capriciousness of officialdom in what is a very British version of The Right Stuff. I loved it.' --Rowland White, author of Vulcan 607 and Phoenix Squadron

'This is a fascinating account of what is likely to be Britain's final foray into military aviation. Mr Hamilton-Paterson is a knowledgeable and accomplished writer and his enthusiasm and his anger are infectious.' --Len Deighton

'From the moment on the first page when a Vulcan bomber surges with monstrous grace round the corner of a hill, this is elegy with all its afterburners on, expert about the engineering of the planes, worshipful of the men who flew them, and furious at the disappearance of the technological Britain that brought them forth.'

Francis Spufford, author of Backroom Boys



'A book of aerial wonder, sonic booms, exquisite aircraft and British heroes, beautifully told.' --Jonathan Glancey, author of Spitfire

'This is a fascinating account of what is likely to be Britain's final foray into military aviation. Mr Hamilton-Paterson is a knowledgeable and accomplished writer and his enthusiasm and his anger are infectious.' --Len Deighton

'From the moment on the first page when a Vulcan bomber surges with monstrous grace round the corner of a hill, this is elegy with all its afterburners on, expert about the engineering of the planes, worshipful of the men who flew them, and furious at the disappearance of the technological Britain that brought them forth.'

Francis Spufford, author of Backroom Boys



'A book of aerial wonder, sonic booms, exquisite aircraft and British heroes, beautifully told.' --Jonathan Glancey, author of Spitfire

Book Description

Empire of the Clouds by James Hamilton-Paterson is a brilliant, nostalgic and provocative look at the golden age of British aircraft, from the post-war jet age to the recent sad decline.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Henk Beentje TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book: the writer feels, at times, that this is a biography of Bill Waterton, top test pilot (and critic of cant and sloppy practices). It is more than that, though; it is an overview of the British military and civil aviation of the late 1940s and 1950s. Of the aero industry, the many designs coming from the many independent aircraft companies, the test pilots who flew the prototypes; and of the failure of management to follow up success, the ineptitude and capriciousness of government, civil servants, and airlines. It describes the tragedy of great promise, shot down by loss of nerve, vacillation and incompetence: "the casual draining of a painfully acquired reservoir of national know-how that amounts to a form of treason." It also describes the heady enthousiasm of this particular period of flying, and goes into detail of the 'plane models involved.

The author: James Hamilton-Patterson has written on President Marcos of the Philippines, the World's Oceans, Elgar; has published poetry, children's books and the brilliant trilogy (so far, but we can hope) on Gerald Samper, Tuscan sybarite and cook extraordinaire.

My opinion: if you're not particularly keen on airplanes, don't bother. If you are, however, you're in for a treat - this is great stuff. A very appealing writing style: knowledgeable, well-researched, witty, informative - and enthousiastic, even poetic in places ("brooding anhedral"). The 'planes such as the Meteor, the Vulcan and the Lightning (and many more) are treated like the personalities they are. The test pilots who flew them, the companies that built them, the politicians and civil servants who scrapped them, or vacillated until they became obsolete... there is both enthusiasm and fury here, but both very well written and argued.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Clipper 314 on 15 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book and for those of with early memories of Vulcans & Lightnings in the early 60's its one not to be missed. Well written and the saga of the demise of the British jet hopes is both illuminating and comprehensive as is the 'lot' of the test pilots. Overall the book gives an excellent understanding of why Great Britain lost the lead in civilian and military manufacture, but stresses the genius of invention that existed in the UK.. e.g.jump jet technology. My only wish was for more photos to illustrate the text... but a very worthy book not to be missed.. particularly at the Amazon price
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter on 17 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
I wanted a book which gives a twenty first century review of Britian's aircraft industry after the Second World War, at the beginning of the jet age, and this is the answer. The passage of time can and does modify views and impressions. It is a great book for all aircraft enthusiasts who can remember back to the days (like me) when aeroplanes looked like aeroplanes and Britain made a significant contribution to the wide variety of flying machines and the Farnborough air display was always exciting and innovative. It is an excellent follow-on to "Britain's Aircraft Industry, What Went Right, What Went Wrong" by Arthur Reed and published by Dent in 1973. There are more anecdotes and personal accounts in "Empire" than the Reed book which make it immensely readable - and nostalgic.
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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Damien Burke on 6 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
The book's subtitle - When Britains' Aircraft Ruled the World - is a conceit that it soon discards. Decades of mismanagement, political blundering, profiteering and cost-cutting all conspired to produce a succession of stunted, limited aircraft long on personality and short on utility, and it is refreshing for the bad as well as the good of those times to be discussed. There is precious little ruling of the world to be found here, and the book is really a fascinating mixture of a nostalgic look back at the airshows of the 1950s and the ever-more impressive military aircraft fielded by the RAF up to the late 1960s weaved into a respectful and long-overdue rehabilitation of the reputation of one of Britain's bravest test pilots, W.A. 'Bill' Waterton. Brave because he was eventually fired by Glosters for being too much of a pain in the rear with his outspoken opposition to what he saw as deliberate efforts to cut costs and mask faults in their aircraft, which ended up costing lives. Waterton's experience led him to remain outspoken as an aviation journalist afterwards, laying bare the idiocy and duplicity of an entire industry and its political masters before he finally returned to his native Canada and faded into obscurity. Empire of the Clouds puts this all into perspective and lays it against the background of that entire sweep of UK aviation history from 1946 to the present day.

The author's use of language is frequently poetic to the extreme and evokes feelings of nostalgia even if you weren't around in the 1950s to remember the events he describes as well as provoking wide grins of recognition if you have even the slightest love for the roar of a jet fighter or bomber cavorting in front of a crowd.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Bartlett on 14 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're interested in the developement of British military and civil aircraft in the 50s and 60s, when the jet engine was in its infancy, and Health and Safety were considered unpatriotic; if you thrilled to exciting tales of derring do by British Test Pilots and remember sonic bangs as standard fare at Air Shows; if you have ever wondered why, with our self proclaimed excellence in aviation, so few British aircraft were ever commercially successful; this book is for you. Well written and even handed this is a book for the aircraft enthusiast but also for the economic historian, as it tracks the gross mismanagement, commercial naivety and political chicanery that brought an innovative, World class manufacturing industry down to its knees.
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