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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2008
Having been moved, each time, reading Saggitarius Rising, I moved on to other fictional accounts of WW1 aviation. Discovering On a Wing and a Prayer at last was a pleasure.

Wary at first that the author did not have a background in aviation, I was soon persuaded that his credentials were not questionable.

Mr Levine puts those other books into some sensible context. How the RAF evolved from naval orgins is just a part of the history. What we have here is a readable history with the personal testimonies of those involved, which maybe these days is how we prefer our education. I cannot share the concerns of another reviewer who finds this too simplified for a serious reader. This is a well-researched book, assembled with care. The detail is sufficient for all but the most dedicated anorak; the contemporary accounts are well-chosen and selectively placed and there are enough illustrations to give the reader a little more to aid the imagination of that most dreadful war.

If the book contained only the diaries of the 'pioneering aviation heroes', it would be valuable but inadequate. The author adds enough political and historical background to give those words additional impact. If like me your knowledge of The Great War has vast gaps, this might just help. I'm not an avid reader of histories, but an avid private pilot. Knowing the background to ones current privileges makes them all the more precious.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2009
I'm not so sure about untold but certainly any book regarding WWI told in the words of the participants is interesting and, especially for myself, regarding the air war. It is nice to see some of the truths regarding the aces, such as Mannock, Ball and McCudden, coming out. These fearless fighters were just as frightened as everyone else and just had the capacity to overcome it and keep reentering the fray even when they must have had a fatalistic sense that they would never come out of it alive or at least in one piece. Some others didn't have the wherewithall but nevertheless were brave. A good book which I feel tells it like it was.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2008
If you are newcomer to Britain's flying services during the First World War, this book is a must. If you know your way around the subject already, then it will still surprise, inform and entertain you nonetheless.

Mr Levine does to the flying services in the Great War what Patrick Bishop did to Fighter and Bomber Commands in the Second World War. Superbly structured, very well written, and obviously intricately researched, the book guides you around the subject of air fighting over the Western Front and the Home Front with ease. The history of the flying services is intertwined with the history of the men who flew and serviced the aircraft. I have never seen training covered in anywhere near such detail before (an entire chapter), and the same treatment is given to the often overlooked work of reconnaissance.

Wherever possible Mr Levine lets those who were there tell the story in their own words. This is a major asset of the book, as these (sometimes lengthy) quotes let you into the minds and the world of these men. Most are from obscure or little used sources, and provide fresh and unusual insights into the war. You will find no great revelations, no 'now it can be told' hype or claims to change how we think about Great War air fighting, but you will find countless nudges away from preconceptions, opening new ways of looking at things or angles that are usually ignored. Between these quotes, Mr Levine's easy style draws you along some thought-provoking avenues.

Only two criticisms come to mind. Firstly, there is little information on the role of observation balloons, a large and very important part of the aviation work carried out on the Western Front. Secondly, the quotes are not referenced, making it hard to track down the source if you want to know more.

Overall, though, my advice is: buy this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2009
A beautifully lucid account of the early days of military aviation. It's simply a must-read and cannot recommend it enough for its drama, breadth of coverage and easy-flowing style. Wonderful images make it even better.

Some of the incredible accounts by pilots include one where a pilot is messing about with a jammed machine gun magazine. He accidentally flips the aircraft over, with him then falling out of his seat, hanging on to the same magazine for dear life, somehow managing to climb back into the cockpit and getting home in one piece!

If, like me, you're a pilot yourself, then it has an even greater meaning.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2008
On a Wing and a Prayer: The Untold Story of the Pioneering Aviation Heroes of WW1, in Their Own Words
This is a particularly good read for anyone with an interest or involvement in aerial warfare. As a retired RAF fighter pilot I found myself continually engaged with the recollections which Mr Levine has brought together in such an accessible way. The range and diversity of the contributions offer many surprises and considerable interest. This book is no substitute for a plodding reference tome on the birth of the RFC and RAF if that is what the reader seeks. It offers insight into the ingenuity, resourcefulness and bravery which men and women may rise to under pressure.
You will not be disappointed by this inspirational book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 3 July 2009
This book deals with the subject mainly through the letters home of those involved, so writing it involved a good deal of research. The upside for the author is that, having selected his source material, much of the book is already written for him. This is a technique which the author has used before, for example, in a previous title `Forgotten Voices of the Blitz'. The method has the advantage that the reader connects with events through first hand testimony.

In this case several things became clear. The first was that aircraft design was accelerated greatly by the war. The second was the incredible importance of class during this period, which was particularly hard on sergeant pilots, few in number, who had no mess of their own but couldn't use the officers' mess which the other pilots used. The third was that when usable parachutes were developed the top brass ordered several hundred but didn't provide any to aircrew - on the grounds they would perform better if there was no escape route!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2008
Josh Levine can be relied on to produce books that give us an insight into the lives of men caught up in terrible events swirling far beyond their control. His hard graft listening to the thousands of hours of recordings preserved in the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive has once again paid fruit in this excellent book. Sit side by side with pilots as they take to the air for the first time, share the thrills of flight in barely understood 'primitive' aircraft and the awful nerve-shredding excitement of aerial combat. I loved it, recommend this book without reservations and can only pity those whose bleak embittered souls are not uplifted by these fantastic first-hand accounts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2010
I borrowed this audio book from my local library and liked it so much that I've bought this copy as a Christmas present for my dad. There is not a great deal written about the everyday (though dramatic) life of these early and first fighter pilots. The planes they flew were little more than fabric and wood attached to an engine. To survive the flight as well as fighting must have been a traumatic experience, especially as most of them were very young. This book is very poignant, especially as most of it comes from the written reminiscences of the men who took part. The author, who is also the narrator on this audiobook,links the memories with relevent facts that makes the overall telling a very cohesive and interesting piece of history, as well as giving a very human view of these brave young men.
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on 9 July 2010
This is a damned good book. It's a collection of memories by people who were actually there at the time, and it describes day to day life as well as their experiences in combat. Of course it wanders in various directions - any real conversation does! But the diversions are all relevant and describe events that played a part in the lives of these pilots. This is the story of real people living from one day to the next, not a detailed record of who flew against who on what particular date. There are plenty of other books for that.

I found Joshua Levine's work to be absorbing and well written, and would recommend it to anyone interested either in WW1 aviation, or in the general history of that period.
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on 2 October 2009
Joshua Levin has written an excellent book about the RFC giving much more of an insight into how it all started and the problems they faced overcoming entrenched ideas from the "Colonel Blimp" mentality of the General staff. Details about the flying techniques and training are excellent. As an ex-RAF test pilot I found it a fascinating and interesting read, knowing how much things have moved on, and how much they achieved with such basic instruments.
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