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Sagittarius Rising [Paperback]

Cecil Lewis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Jun 2009
'This is a book everyone should read. It is the autobiography of an ace, and no common ace either. The boy had all the noble tastes and qualities, love of beauty, soaring imagination, a brilliant endowment of good looks ...this prince of pilots ...had a charmed life in every sense of the word' - George Bernard ShawSent to France with the Royal Flying Corps at just seventeen, and later a member of the famous 56 Squadron, Cecil Lewis was an illustrious and passionate fighter pilot of the First World War, described by Bernard Shaw in 1935 as 'a thinker, a master of words, and a bit of a poet'. In this vivid and spirited account the author evocatively sets his love of the skies and flying against his bitter experience of the horrors of war, as we follow his progress from France and the battlefields of the Somme, to his pioneering defence of London against deadly night time raids.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Frontline Books (18 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848325193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848325197
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


If you want to read one book which best captures the heroic infancy of flying, then Sagittarius Rising is it. Forget St Exupery, Lindbergh or even Richard Hillary. Cecil Lewis got there before any of them, and in this magical memoir summed up the terrible beauty of flying, and fighting the first air war, waged in the skies above the Western Front. --Nigel Jones, BBC History Magazine

Sagittarius Rising is his stirring, often moving, account of his years with the corps, fighting on the Western Front. The vivid descriptions of dog-fights (including an encounter with the Red Baron) and the exhilaration of flight transcend Boy's Own Paper banality through his poignancy and lyrical depth. --The Times

This is a book everyone should read. It is the autobiography of an ace, and no common ace either. The boy had all the noble tastes and qualities, love of beauty, soaring imagination, a brilliant endowment of good looks . . . this prince of pilots . . . had a charmed life in every sense of the word . . . he is a thinker, a master of words, and a bit of a poet. --George Bernard Shaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Cecil Lewis distinguished himself in action with eight victories throughout WWI and was awarded the MC. After the war he became a flying instructor in China and later achieved fame as one of the founders of the BBC, and as a respected playwright. He died in 1997. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By D. Ross
This is possibly the best aircraft related war memoir I have ever read. Cecil Lewis is a wordsmith in his own right, he lived to be 98 and became a successful BBC broadcaster. He wrote this book later on in life, but not from an adult perspective only just how he fell at the time as a 17 year old youth joining the Royal Flying Corps. It's full of love for flying, full of passion and knowledge of the machines, full of feelings that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster and make you laugh and cry as you read through this magnificent masterpiece of a memoir.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Cecil Lewis is above all gifted writer. He gives the reader a rare insight into the life of a young man during the first world war and shortly afterwards.
A "bit of a Poet" he tells us of his experience as he trains to be a pilot and then during active duty.
This memoir lets us see through his eyes what live was like. Perhaps we see it better for he has a keen eye for detail and is both sensitive and perceptive.
The flying and combat scenes are perhaps the best ever written.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the classics 23 April 2009
There are not many books which give first hand accounts of the air war in the first world war - there were not many who survived. Cecil Lewis was not only a survivor - against the odds - he was also a writer of talent. The backdrop which is provided of youthful exuberance, combined with the sense of duty, helps explain why young men continued to accept and face up to the near certainty of death. This is not just a book about the air war, it is a eulogy to a lost cast.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I bought this because I was reading another book called Fighter Boys which is a well researched account of the development of the RAF leading up to a detailed account of the Battle of Britain. In the early stages of the book the author frequently cited Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis as one of the best accounts we have of flying in the first world war, and it certainly lives up to that description. Cecil Lewis joined the RFC as soon as he could in the very early stages of WW1 and seems to have led a charmed life, being on active service in the RFC as a pilot throughout the war, carrying out duties as an airborne observer for the artillery, flying photographic reconnaisance missions over enemy territory, and being involved in dogfights including encountering von Richtofen's circus. The book is punctuated with his philosphical musings about war and civilisation which are as relevant to-day as they were then. An excellent well written account which is also very informative on the rapid development of aviation technology during the war.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The above superlatives are all appropriate. I want to add that the technicalities are good enough for pilots without baffling laymen, and his description of the extreme difficulty of keeping his Morane Parasol the right side up, for example, is a masterly illustration of the perennial balancing act in military aircraft between lethality and safety, in other words, hoping they kill more of them than they do of us. Photos would have been good, and the edition I had was a facsimile of an early edition, meaning there was no postscript on what became of Lewis himself, or commentaries and footnotes by a historian, which would also have been nice to have.I am afraid, Mukisa, they really did think it was "ripping" to go to war -- at first, of course -- and a lot of memoirs only got written in the 1930s because the veterans did not at first believe that anyone but other veterans could possibly understand what they experienced.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not perfect, but well worth a read 7 Jun 2009
By Mukisa
A unique book, for sure, and a wonderful insight into the lifestyle of WW1 fighter pilots. But I can't rave about it as the other reviwers seem to have done. Some of Lewis' writing is overly sentimental, such as when he talks about his various love affairs - for me, this was neither relevant nor very interesting. There's also an element of Boy's Own in his style, such as the faintly ridiculous "Wouldn't it be ripping!", as he and his friend (aged 17) decide excitedly to sign up for the Flying Corps. More critically, most of the text was written from memory, a full 18 years after the war ended, which must cast some doubt on the details of the discussions and descriptions that he includes. One final criticism, this time of the publishers: Lewis talks lovingly about the many different types of aircraft that he flew, but for nearly all readers (myself included), it is impossible to have a mental picture of these long-gone machines. Could they not have included some photos?

These critiques aside, I felt by the end that I would have greatly enjoyed the company of Cecil Lewis. This sense came not so much from his descriptions of the War - extraordinary though they were - but from what he wrote towards the end of the book about his time training (or trying to train) Chinese pilots in Peking in the early 1920s. He was a sensitive observer of people, and I appreciated his genuine appreciation of the Chinese. At a time when most of the British expatriates there were fairly disdainful of their host nation, his attitude was that of a very substantial person, as well as - at least in this respect - rather a humble one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sagittarius Rising 1 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have come back to this classic after 30 years and like a fine wine, it has improved with the keeping! It is, without doubt, one of the finest books in the aviator's library.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic
A must for all aviation types pilots or watchers. This is a real classic that goes further than just the First World War
Published 24 days ago by Thrust Draglift
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling autobiography of a Royal Flying Corps surivor
This reads like 'Forrest Gump' - but this character is for real: fighting and surviving the First World War then going on to set up the BBC. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jonathan F. Vernon
5.0 out of 5 stars best book of it's type?
This book thoroughly deserves it's reputation as a good read. The style is fresh and evocative, and the era comes out, as well as the combat.
Published 3 months ago by toasty
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best first chapters you will ever read
The first chapter in this book is one of the best that I have ever read. The main body of the book covers the authors training on very basic trainer aircraft and charts his... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mark Appleby
3.0 out of 5 stars The Curate's egg
Very good in parts but utterly self indulgent & neither good nor coherent in others. It would have been far better if he had not dwelt so intensely on his China experience.
Published 4 months ago by A. Beverley
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I saw the author talking on the BBC Great War series and was impressed enough to look him up on the internet. I read he had written some books and found this one was in print. Read more
Published 4 months ago by A Buyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
this is a good tale. of the first world war and written without false emotion, which is strange for a pilot poet
Published 5 months ago by richard miles davies
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very focused
I read a number of good reviews but saw one that said the author lacked some clarity with certain events as he wrote the book too long after his experiences. Read more
Published 5 months ago by A. Frid
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book which helped in my research.
A cannot put down book until the last few chapters where he talks about after the war and his experience in China 'Yawn'! Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ian M. Hollingsbee
4.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book but spoilt by my own upbringing
Firstly I should make very clear that Cecil Lewis was nothing short of an incredible man, accomplished in so many fields, including journalism and writing. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Duck on a Book with a Magnolia
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