Monday, August 18, 2014

Non-Fiction Review: A Higher Call


Title: A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
Author: Adam Makos
Publisher: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2012. 392 pages.
Source: Library

This book tracks two pilots, one American and one German, up to and away from an amazing encounter over Germany. While the encounter forms the center of the story, the book in fact is a thoughtful account of the German Air Force though the war.

As noted, this book is about much more than a single 10-minute encounter between to planes over Germany. The author freely admits to having begun the project with a strong bias against the German pilots, or anyone who fought on the German side in WWII, and an assumption that all Germans were Nazis. But his research forced him to recognize the human beings on both sides, and in the end it was the German pilot whose story he most wanted to tell. In the process, he tells the story of the German Air Force, at least from one perspective. Along the way he learned that good men fought on both sides, that many never joined or supported the Nazi party, and that once the bombs started falling, it didn't seem to matter so much who was right or wrong--they just wanted to protect their homeland.

As a result, the book isn't exactly what it advertises to be--the central incident takes up only one (admittedly gripping) chapter--but it is well worth reading. When we follow Franz Stigler from boyhood, seeing his love of flying develop and lead him ultimately to the air force and to flying fighters, we also see how many ordinary Germans disliked and distrusted Hitler, who had essentially run a coup, claiming complete control with a party that had won less than half the vote (and then abolished elections). It's not hard to understand Franz's anger when his brother is killed. Then we see him gradually sickened by the death and destruction, until he finally fails to shoot down Charlie Brown's US bomber, though it's so shot to pieces he could have taken it out with a pea shooter.

The book reads like a novel, though it is clearly well-researched. I enjoyed it, and appreciated learning more about the other side, being reminded that there are always humans on both sides of a war.  It is well-edited (though I found one typo :) ) and has little in it that doesn't need to be. Technical details of planes are kept to just what we need to know, and most characters who are introduced in any detail prove later to be important to Franz in one way or another.

For all fans of aviation and/or WWII literature.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed A Higher Call  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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