Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin: The Glider Pilots of World War II by Scott McGaugh

Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin by Scott McGaugh caught my attention almost immediately as it’s an area of history that is rarely, if ever, covered by historians. While I was initially put off by the publishing company, Osprey, I decided to give the book a shot anyway.

The book is very short coming in at just under 300 pages but this largely has to do with the limited scope, dealing with gliders and their pilots during World War II. There are backgrounds of some of the pilots going back into childhood but I didn’t find a strong connection to any of the people due to this as I was far more interested in the subject matter and getting into the details.

The glider stories really begin with the Sicily invasion for the Americans who received the ideas of focusing on gliders after the Germans used them in the blitzkrieg. Naturally, this took some time for the Allies to study, develop and train people and machinery to become effective in the battlefield and displays why they took so long to eventually be deployed.

The death rates for these gliders was incredibly high due to bad construction and thought, and many of the pilots had limited training or much of any practice once they had been trained. Glider pilots seemed to be mere fodder for the war effort, an incredible afterthought considering the danger they were putting themselves and their men in.

The book only covers the European theater for the Allies and only focuses on the Allied use of gliders. There is some mention of other nations using them at the time, but this book focuses mainly on the Allied efforts to get their gliders into war, how they were used and their effectiveness.

This is also a book built for those new to World War II study, surprisingly enough. There’s a very basic glossary at the beginning which describes even what D-Day is for the reader and so any questions of new words one may have, a reader could easily reflect to the glossary and likely have those questions answered.

At the same time, the bibliography could be better sorted. First person and primary source accounts are listed rather haphazardly with all of them lumped together in one large paragraph. There is really no need for this and makes the book feel messy if one is interested in collecting further information. But there are plenty of black and white glossy photos in the middle of the book which further illustrate what the gliders are, how they looked and some of the people who used them.

The writing also seemed to be trying too hard at times. Some chapters begin in a jarring way, throwing the reader into the action of a scene. It can take a paragraph or two to understand exactly what we’re doing and what’s going on. This is unnecessary in a history book.

Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin is a good book which focuses on a particular part of World War II which is rarely focused upon. It’s a nice jumping off point for further study in the area or even the campaign to take Sicily. It doesn’t receive a strong recommendation from me, but if you have interest in unique subject matter, Italy during World War II or new weapons development of the era, Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin is a necessary read.

The Democrats’ Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy by Steven M. Gillon

The Democrats’ Dilemma by Steven M. Gillon is an excellent look into the conundrum the Democrats had found themselves after the bludgeoning they received in the 1984 election loss to Ronald Reagan.

The book follows Walter Mondale in showing how the Democrats may have lost their way or why the Democrats had been very consistent losers after the Johnson era. Mondale is an excellent subject in this instance as he was brought up as a politician during the Vietnam War, he believed in it along with politicians like Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson, and he followed the Jimmy Carter path which proved to be a failure both economically and politically for the nation and for the Democrats.

Even though the book is written by a left-leaning author, Gillon is largely fair (although his more modern articles are quite the opposite). He does puff up the Democrats at times and disparages the Republicans with certain sleight-of-hand vocabulary but it is still very fair and its the type of fairness we don’t see in modern books published about politics. The book is well-written, easy to read and is an excellent dissection of the Democrat’s problems of the time.

Going into the book, I had expected it to be more about the Democrats as a party but it goes into significant detail on Walter Mondale, his life and especially the elections. It was a great source material for those events. While learning about Mondale these days is mostly superfluous as his effect on the Democrat party seemed to end after the 1984 election disaster, it is important to show the evolution of the Democrat party in this time and how they adjusted to losing so many modern elections in this era.

Aside from Mondale, there is focus on the Democrat party, too. Mondale was showcased as the typical northern Democrat who was skeptical of the racist Dixiecrats or other Democrats coming out of the South which made his pairing with Jimmy Carter even more interesting.

Overall, the book is well-crafted, well-researched and all-around uses incredibly great sources. While it was published in the early 1990s, it doesn’t extend into the modern day and doesn’t have much need to. By the time Clinton has become a challenger, Mondale had become a punchline. For a look into why the Democrats struggled or into Mondale himself, The Democrats’ Dilemma is a top-tier book to get into.