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Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
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A History of the Battle of Britain

A-With Wings Like EaglesMichael Korda, former editor in chief at Simon and Schuster and a Royal Air Force veteran, has written acclaimed biographies of Ulysses S. Grant (2004) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike, 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2007).

The Topic: In 1940, Hitler’s Germany launched a full-scale assault on England named Operation Sea Lion. The German bombers were met by a swift, highly organized Royal Air Force that, over the summer, wore down the Third Reich’s forces and made impossible any thoughts of a full-scale invasion of Britain. The nimble, single-engine Spitfire and Hurricane planes, as well an extensive radar and radio system, were the innovations of Chief Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Korda’s hero in this immersing history of the Battle of Britain. Dowding was a pugnacious, controversial figure whose foresight, organization, and tactical brilliance, in Korda’s opinion, inevitably changed the direction of World War II.
HarperCollins. 336 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 0061125350

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Exploring the rough-and-tumble politics, personalities and preoccupations of pre-war Britain, [Korda] demonstrates that the country actually was uniquely prepared for the coming battle. … The author always manages to bring [the action overhead] back to earth with gripping human stories." John Barron

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Often, accounts of this battle focus on Prime Minister Winston Churchill. … But in With Wings Like Eagles, the author manages to move the prime minister into a supporting role—no easy task." Kasey S. Pipes

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"There is something bold and refreshing about With Wings Like Eagles. While so many writers work the nooks and crannies of history in search of the new angle or revisionist take, Mr. Korda goes for the undeniably great, well-known story, never mind that new angles are few or that it has been told countless times before." Tom Nagorski

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Korda gives us the courage and cussedness of a man who stuck to what he believed in—he was prepared to face down Churchill if necessary—and cared not a jot for popularity so long as he got his way. … Korda details the battle itself day by day: the tactics, the targets, the successes, the losses and the shifting political and operational arguments on both sides." Diana Preston

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Korda does a good job of describing the infrastructure and strategy that were keys to the Battle of Britain. [But he] tends to write the kind of long, complicated sentences that cry for in-air refueling." Dan Danborn

Critical Summary

A key military engagement—Korda ranks it among "one of the four most crucial victories in British history"—the Battle of Britain has been written about extensively. What Korda achieves here is an elegant reexamination that looks beyond the long shadow and statesmanship of Winston Churchill to consider the impressive legacy of Chief Air Marshal Hugh Dowding. Critics agree that, whatever the title, this is largely Dowding’s book. Korda intersperses compelling in-the-cockpit battle scenes with on-the-ground reportage, but in the end, the book is "less about [the young pilots] and more about the foresight and tactics that won the Battle of Britain" (Wall Street Journal).