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Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World Hardcover – 20 Oct 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 207 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 20 Oct 2011
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Special Edition edition (20 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571278892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571278893
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 2.5 x 28.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

' ... a magnificent account of British aviation, when a new Elizabethan age seemed to have dawned of supersonic derring-do ... brimful of racy incident and exquisitely written ... this book stands out as a hymn to Jet Age glory days, and a marvel of reminiscence besides.' --Ian Thomson, Evening Standard

'A beautifully written re-creation of a vanished cultural and technological landscape. [Hamilton-Paterson's] achievement is to capture perfectly the mood of the 10 years after the second world war when British heroes seemed to rule the skies ... this wonderful book is a study in failure, the story of swashbuckling heroes tilting at windmills while their masters frittered away Britain's technological inheritance. And yet ... what lingered in the mind were the memories of the ''golden men and golden machines that unquestionably blazed amid the dispiriting muddle.'' ' --Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'Empire of the Clouds is a splendid, meticulous and stylish story of wonderful machines and the men who made them. It is also a tale of fudging, incompetence, malice, complacency and ignorance. It is a story of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. It is a very British tale indeed.' --Michael Bywater, The Independent

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, now in a glorious illustrated edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I grew up in the 1950s/60s and was an avid plane spotter - always looking up to see the amazing (weird and wonderful) products of the UK aviation industry.

This book brought it all back, and highlighted the astonishing bravery of the test pilots - flying in ordinary clothes, in planes that were of dubious design, and working for a pittance, for the autocratic peers of the industry.

Rightly or wrongly a variety of governments meddled with and, in effect, destroyed the UK aviation industry - we are left with BAe who make the wings for the European Airbus. During the glory days of this book, we were building (badly in many cases!) a huge variety of military and civilian aircraft - Meteors, Canberras, Lightnings, Vulcans, Vampires, Comets, VC10s etc etc - beautiful creatures of the sky - and the things that made us look up.

I remember a particular Latin lesson at school in the 60s, when a rather delicious sound was droning past the window and the whole class turned to watch. "And now a pause to marvel at the modern piston engine in flight" entoned the Beak.

The book details the extraordinary companies (De Havilland, Hawker Siddley, Gloster etc.) many and various businesses who had made the wonderful aircraft that helped us win World War 2, and who were still expecting to continue with their designs and be funded by the tax payer... perhaps the government was right after all?

Fun times! My first job was working for Hawker Siddeley at Hatfield - on Tridents and what was to become the BA146. As a new graduate trainee I was given the opportunity to be "ballast" on a Trident test flight - so I jumped at the chance. The plane was empty of seats - just some lumps of lead as weight, so I sat up near the cockpit. Bliss!
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