Some books see history from the top down, describing what was done by the supposed 'Greats' who receive most of the attention in the press. Others look from the bottom up at how those same events involved ordinary people. This well-research and well-written book does an excellent job at describing the Berlin Airlift from the perspective of all who participated, from President Truman and General Clay at the top, to the USAF pilots and mechanics, many of them recalled WWII veterans, who flew and maintained the planes. The success of the airlift rests on both Truman's 'We stay in Berlin. Period' and the courage of those pilots flying in all sorts of weather. As you might expect from the title, Daring Young Men, the book touches on but does not explore in depth what the airlift meant to the people of Berlin. For that, you'll need to read other books.
There are also several broader themes in the book:
* The airlift anticipated both today's almost all-weather air travel and an 'all air all the way' freight business. What the USAF was doing in the 1940s, is what corporate American began doing in the 1980s. Sometimes the military does something first and others follow.
* We should never forget that the heroism of Great Britain did not end with the fall of Berlin. It continued on with the major assistance that an impoverished post-war UK made to an airlift to rescue their former foe's capital city from a communist dictatorship. Reeves doesn't say so outright, but it is easy to suspect that in the long run Britain benefited from their generosity. The effort they devoted to saving Berlin rather than keeping their empire intact in India and the Middle East spared them the disasters that befell the French, whose zeal to save their empire in Indo-China kept them from offering much assistance to the airlift.
* Today, the 'politically correct' claim that the U.S. has been behaving badly since it became the world's only policeman (clearly assumed to be a bad thing) after the fall of the Soviet Union (almost assumed to be bad). That's not even remotely true, as the Berlin airlift demonstrates. As the author notes, after World War II, democratic Europe was simply too devastated to have the resources to stand up to the threat the USSR and a communist ideology posed in Europe and abroad. It was under Truman that the US first shouldered that burden of policing the world and containing the thugs. The real objection to that Truman policy has different roots. With its foreign policy no longer dominated by the need to contain Soviet communism, the US can now devote at least some attention to less pressing but still important matters. One example is Saddam''s Iraq, which was brutally repressive at home and intent on conquering its neighbors (Iran, Kuiwait and eventually Saudi Arabia). When Bush removed Saddam from power, he was continuing the policy of aggressive containment that began under Truman. Obama's failure to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran suggests that he's part of a different American tradition, that of President Carter.
History strongly suggests that Truman''s policies of aggressive containment is far more successful at containing evil-doers than the pandering and excuse-making that took place under Carter and that now passes for foreign policy under the Obama administration. Truman not only saved Berlin, he may have saved much of Western Europe from becoming like Finland, a country that was only able to stay democratic in the Soviet shadow by adopting a castrated foreign policy that was pleasing to the USSR. Truman not only talked tough, he was tough.
This is a story of which I had only very little knowledge, but this book brought it alive very easily and clearly. The dangers, the efforts, the human cost as well as the necessary stubbornness to deal with a very serious situation in a rather shaky and uncertain political enviroment. I can only highly recommend it to everyone who is interested in history's shady, almost forgetten points.