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The Last Enemy [Paperback]

Richard Hillary
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Feb 1997
THE LAST ENEMY recounts Richard Hillary's experiences as a fighter pilot in the Second World War, in which he was shot down and spent months in hospital, undergoing operations to rebuild his face and hands. It was published in 1942, seven months before his death in a second crash.

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The Last Enemy + First Light (Penguin World War II Collection)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New edition edition (6 Feb 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071267344X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712673440
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 1.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 694,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The Last Enemy rapidly acquired the aura of a book that says something vital, whose importance goes beyond what it literally describes." (Sebastian Faulks)

"`This slim volume of Hillary's seems to have a weight which makes it sink into the depths of one's memory, while tons of printed bulk drift as flotsom on its surface. '" (Arthur Koestler)

"One of the classic books of World War Two." (Philip French London Review of Books)

"Rivetingly well told...It will still speak to anyone who cares for the romance and tragedy of a lost hero." (Godfrey Smith Sunday Times)

Book Description

Richard Hillary is one of the three `fatal Englishmen' in Sebastian Faulks's recent Hutchinson bestseller. THE LAST ENEMY - long out of print - is the book he wrote about his experiences in the Second World War. now regarded as a classic, this edition has a new introduction by Sebastian Faulks.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Richard Hilary led a charmed life, born of well to do parents,handsome, an education at Oxbridge and a bright career ahead of him. Then WWII hits, Richard becomes a pilot with his schooltime chums, is shot down and left bobbing in the North Sea for hours. He suffers from horrific scarring and gnarled and contorted hands. He then undergoes painful plastic surgery which is in it's infancy. Richard documents how all of his friends are killed in the war, the sympathy he has to face and his fight to get back up in the skies. This is the best true story about friendship and compassion you'll ever read. A classic from WWII.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Battle of Britain and recovery 7 Jan 2005
Format:Paperback
This is a beautifully written account of one pilot's participation in a crucial WW2 battle. The author spent only a relatively brief period in action; but his description of his privileged period at Oxford, and of fighter training at the beginning of World War 2, are worth reading in their own right.

However, the real subject of this book is the recovery (sadly incomplete) he made from the horrific burns suffered after being shot down on the first anniversary of the outbreak of War. Burns treatment was crude before the outbreak of WW2, and shot-down pilots were the guinea pigs who enabled huge advances in this field to be made. (Hillary's plastic surgeon was the great Sir Archibald McIndoe.) Hillary's courage in fighting his way to this recovery, and the candour with which he describes it, make this book the best memoir I have read of the War.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage in adversity 16 Dec 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is a beautifully written account of one pilot's participation in a crucial WW2 battle. The author spent only a relatively brief period in action; but his description of his privileged period at Oxford, and of fighter training at the beginning of World War 2, are worth reading in their own right.

However, the real subject of this book is the recovery (sadly incomplete) he made from the horrific burns suffered after being shot down on the first anniversary of the outbreak of War. Burns treatment was crude before the outbreak of WW2, and shot-down pilots were the guinea pigs who enabled huge advances in this field to be made. (Hillary's plastic surgeon was the great Sir Archibald McIndoe.) Hillary's courage in fighting his way to this recovery, and the candour with which he describes it, make this book the best memoir I have read of the War.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Not only those interested in aviation or WWII will enjoy this book: Hillary's remarkable but brief life encompassed a privileged education, service in the RAF, horrible injuries and disfigurement, and then life in the fast lane courting a Hollywood star. This is a painfully honest account and one is left with the question of how many other talented people had their lives cut short by the war before they had realized more than a fraction of their potential. Read it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb personal account of the Battle of Britain 17 July 2010
By A. J. Sudworth VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've given this 5 stars but for a different reason to that what I expected when I ordered this book. If you're expecting a story like 'First Light' (Wellum) where he describes squadron life and flying then this is not it
(The actual flying in the Battle is covered in 9 pages)
What you get a profile of what made Richard Hillary tick - his motivations, his friendships, the realisation that all his friends were dead and that in the end he could not be disconnected and fight an objective war
Sebastian Faulks writes an introduction that shows that Hillary tried really hard to get back into flying even after the horrific injuries he suffered and for that alone you just have to salute the courage of the guy
There are moments in this book where you either wonder does he feel anything 'So and so did not return' - and that's it describing the loss of a friend to a long discussion with the girlfrend of his best friend about if he is still around for her after he was killed
This is a short story but it packs a huge punch from laughing at the 'we never practise' approach to rowing that beats a German crew before the war starts to the raw courage of a South African pilot who is burned and has to undergo months of reconstructive surgury
When I was finished I had a clearer view of what we owe people like this - for whatever reason, they gave their lives and Churchill got it spot on
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Account 27 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
The Last Enemy is the definitive account of why those young men went to war to fly and so often die. I first read this when I was 16 and began to understand the bravery of those young men who at that time were not a lot older than myself. His writing of life at Oxford before the war, why he and his friends joined up and what they believed in takes the book to a different level to most fighter boy histories. Hillary's burning and the way this changes his life is made all the more poignant by the fact he died while flying later in the war. His prose is exquisite and there is no doubt that had he lived he would have become a renowned writer. The last several pages of the book when we read that most of his friends are already dead and it is only 1941 bring a lump to the throat of not tears to the eyes. 'The Last Enemy' and 'First Light' are the two best written and involving accounts of the Battle of Britain.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strangely willing guinea pig 11 Mar 2003
Format:Hardcover
The last enemy is not death, but fear. Richard Hillary was fearless to the point of arrogance, and he was among the finest prose writers of his generation, many of whose lives were cut short by the Second World War.

This book charts most of Hillary's life: staring down his Oxbridge colleagues on matters of religion; touring Europe as a rowing Blue; qualifying as an RAF pilot. Hillary was a clever young man who was reportedly hard to like, possessed of a cold determination to thrust his way forward in the world on his own terms, using the strength of his formidable intellect.

Hillary joined the RAF, and was to be shot down in flames, suffering terrible burns, during the Battle of Britain. Fished from the sea barely alive with his skin hanging in tatters, he soon became one of the "Guinea Pigs," burns patients of the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe.

Hillary would have us believe that he reacted to pain with irony, that he flouted death and laughed in the face of disfigurement. But this smacks of bravado. He seems determined to show that fear and pain may be conquered by the intellect alone. In all events, he returned to operational flying - against all advice - and shortly afterwards lost his life. Victory or waste? Who can say?

Hillary was a brilliant writer and this is a fine book. Both ascetic and heroic, lofty and accessible, it bears comparison with the best of T.E. Lawrence. Hillary was well connected in Great Britain and indeed Hollywood, and he would have become a household name had he backed away in time from his obsessive confrontation between mind and death.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Superb read, encapsulates a generation in the Second World War
Published 1 month ago by Penny P
4.0 out of 5 stars Book "The last Enemy"
Fascinating account of one of our brave RAF airmen, but inherently sad.
Published 1 month ago by Airedale2
5.0 out of 5 stars A wartime classic
I discovered this riveting memoir in my teens and have re-read it several times since. When the Second World War began in 1939, Richard Hillary was a brilliant, handsome and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Jennifer Barraclough
5.0 out of 5 stars The Guinea Pig Club
A fascinating insight into the lives of pilots in the second world war, especially an insiders view of the Guinea Pig Club.
Published 7 months ago by Stella Woodhouse
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving account of a bad boy made good
Richard Hilary was a wartime fighter who is talented good looking and privileged. However his attitudes do not make you warm to him. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Legal Eaglet
4.0 out of 5 stars very moving account of a personal journey
It makes you realize that the "heroes" of war have very divided and changing attitudes to what they have done or are doing.
Published 11 months ago by N. Brice
5.0 out of 5 stars Strangely apposite, even 70 years after it was first published.
I first read this book when I was twelve. The cover photograph (the nose of a spitfire) promised tales of daring do, dogfights, shooting down Huns, typical boys own stuff. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Austin McKay
5.0 out of 5 stars Books
Yet another war book for my husband to enjoy, think he has now read more books than the whole Amazon library
Published 20 months ago by Wendy B
5.0 out of 5 stars Too Shorter Life
Have now read the book several times plus his two biographies which has also lead to many other people/writers who
were connected with him during his so short life. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Pexico
2.0 out of 5 stars The Last Enemy
I did not enjoy this book and reluctantly I gave up on it roughly quarter the way through. Probably not my type of book!
Published on 17 Oct 2012 by A "crap"Golfer
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