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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

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on 27 May 2014
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 progression as a pilot through-out the war, covering a couple of tours on the western front and also on the home front. I found the chapters about the home front particularly interesting as I have always viewed the air war during this period as a particularly French affair. The book also charts the rapid technological development of aircraft during this thankfully relatively brief period of our history, and also covers the transition from Royal Flying Corps to the inception of the Royal Air Force.

The Author seems to come from a relatively privileged background, and his writing style is of his era and social class. However, the book does not really suffer for this, and the author comes across as a decent, honest person, doing his best under circumstances most of us can only really begin to imagine.

Towards the end of the book the Author talks briefly about his brief career after the end of the war, particularly about his relatively brief time in china, I found this part of the book a little maudlin and overly poetic. For me it detracted from a book that up to this point I had enjoyed very much. I was interested in what happened to the author after his experience in the war, but felt that he should either have finished the book at the end of the war, or to more fully describe his later career. I would, However, not want this to put anyone of this otherwise excellent book, the last part is relatively brief and after all, this is just one persons subjective view.
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on 13 October 2016
What a glorious book! It captures, in wonderful words, the thrill and exuberance, beauty and transcendence (above this 'feverish age') associated with flight. It recounts the author's experiences and feelings as a 17/18-year-old pilot in the 1st World War (when pilots lasted on average 3 weeks), written some 20 years after the events described.

There are poetic descriptions to make you sigh( 'slowly the aerodrome rose up through the gauzy swathes of mist spun by the invisible hands of twilight'), political ideas to make you cheer out loud, philosophical musings to make you wonder deep into the night and a super insight into the everyday life of British society one hundred years ago. I thought it particularly sweet that the author lapses into third person when describing his amorous encounters!

And just when you think it's all tailing off, you're swept up onto a slow boat to China and travel writing that could have come from Patrick Leigh Fermor - another extraordinary writer and adventurer of the same generation.

'Live gloriously, generously, dangerously. Safety last.' What an attitude to life!
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on 13 February 2017
The book is particularly strong in recording events around 1916 and the bloody battle of the Somme as seen from an aviators perspective. There are few records of this early period of air warfare. I suppose this is because so few of those that took part actually survived long enough to write anything down.

Throughout the book Lewis writes with a mixture of pathos and humour. In places the language is arcane with early 20th century slang but the book absorbs you. Lewis descibes the characters within this real life drama with compassion and records their deaths with clear sorrow.. Even from the distance of a hundred years the reader also cannot but help mourn the loss of such fine people.

The majority of the book relates to the period 1915-18 but the final chapter relates to Lewis part in an attempt to set up an early civil air service in China. Though this final chapter is by definition very different from the rest of the book it is itself enlightening.

Overall a very good read and a worthy tribute to fine people whose lives ended far too soon.
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on 2 December 2015
Cecil Arthur Lewis recounts the crazy first years of his life in style. Learning to fly, engaging in aerial combat during WW1 or trying to set up one of the first airlines in China make for fascinating reading.

Lewis is a bit of a poet and as a result some of his musings can require effort. Nevertheless, they are worth the sweat. The author consistently drops gems of observation that cause one to "Hmmmmmm" out loud or highlight the section in question. Sagittarius Rising is a book for readers of all ages. However, the older one is I suspect the more profound the passages will prove.

If moved to buy this book, or if you can't decide, I highly recommend finding the TV interview that Lewis did for the BBC in 1963 or 1964. It's easy to find on the internet by typing "Cecil Lewis The Great War Interviews" or something similar. It runs almost 40 minutes and it really brings Lewis to life. So much so that when you read Sagittarius Rising it feels like he's sitting right next to you!
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on 7 June 2009
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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on 16 January 2017
If you are attracted by "those magnificent men in their flying machines" then you should like this. Cecil Lewis, at the tender age of 18, was over the Somme dodging "Archie" ( anti-aircraft fire) and German fighter planes. He obviously lived to tell the tale, this at a time when the life expectancy of a pilot in the fledgling RAF was a mere three weeks. Mr Lewis lost many of his comrades but he tells his story well, even poetically at times. His story ends in the early twenties just after his time in China, where he taught a few young Chinese to fly, soaring sometimes over the Great Wall of China. There is even time for him to reflect upon his mortality and "the meaning of life". I would like to have met him. Good stuff!
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on 15 September 2015
I tough read and given its age I suppose that is to be expected. A different slant on the 1914-18 air fighting but given the author and his real life experiences probably as accurate as to the real experience as you will find.
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on 25 March 2015
Having quite a few books on the First World, mostly non-fiction, I was intrigued to read this book. Firstly, funnily enough I did enjoy it. It was refreshing to read something that was not gung ho, was downplayed, almost low key - and yet the gleam of understanding and compassion shone through the whole of it. The book appears episodic in some ways and shows, at the beginning, the naivete of the young man. In some respects it shows how a young officer (I was in the Merchant Navy myself and under different conditions) has to come to terms with his own limitations and expand beyond them where necessary. An intriguing read and the human element shines through all the time.
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on 1 July 2014
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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on 8 May 2014
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. I ordered ii and it came the next day. An astonishing adventure for a 17 year old lad. It was written 20 years after the war and the added reflections of a grown man looking back add poignancy to the narrative. It is a treat to discover gems like this.
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