The best books about Zeppelin airships

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World
By Alexander Rose

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.


I wrote...

Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

What is my book about?

Empires of the Sky brings the Golden Age of Aviation back to life by telling the story of the giant Zeppelin airships that once roamed the sky and ended with the fiery destruction of the Hindenburg. For decades, the airplane and the airship were rivals for technological superiority, and their greatest exponents fought a long duel for mastery of the air. The Zeppelin Company’s Hugo Eckener went head to head against Juan Trippe, the ruthlessly ambitious king of Pan American Airways, who believed his fleet of next-generation planes would vanquish Eckener’s coming airship armada. It was a fight only one man could win. Countering each other’s moves on the global chessboard, each seeking to wrest the advantage from his rival, the two men’s struggle was not only the clash of business, diplomacy, politics, and personalities, but of their vastly different dreams of our future.

The books I picked & why

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Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129

By Dan Grossman, Cheryl Ganz, Patrick Russell

Book cover of Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129

Why this book?

A magnificently illustrated guide to the Hindenburg, written and compiled by three airship experts, this book is an amazing resource, not just for its selection of extremely rare photos but for the depth of knowledge that’s contained within. I would say that if you’re going to buy a single book specifically about the Hindenburg, I’d make it this one. It’ll tell you pretty much everything you need to impress people at parties while also introducing you to the Wide World of Zeppelin.


Zeppelin!: Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939

By Guillaume de Syon,

Book cover of Zeppelin!: Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939

Why this book?

This is an academic book, one that’s engaging, fluidly written, and immensely interesting for anyone intrigued by the longtime German fascination with airships. Rather than the technical details, Syon’s broader focus is on what the wondrous technology meant to Germans and how it shaped their culture and history over the decades. His approach, in other words, puts Zeppelins into context. Put it this way, in 1938 a large-scale survey discovered that Count von Zeppelin, the inventor of the airship and dead for twenty years, ranked among the best recognized of German luminaries. His score was higher than even that of the immortal Beethoven at a time when the Luftwaffe-obsessed Nazis were trying to scrub any memory of their airships. Such a finding is impossible to explain unless you understand the cultural importance of the Zeppelin, making this book critically important. 


Airshipmen, Businessmen, and Politics, 1890-1940

By Henry Cord Meyer,

Book cover of Airshipmen, Businessmen, and Politics, 1890-1940

Why this book?

This is a collection of ten essays about airship history, mostly concentrating on the business, political, and diplomatic angles. Zeppelins didn’t simply “exist” as objective bits of hardware, but were inextricably enmeshed in the controversies of their era, as Meyer ably and amply demonstrates. If you’re interested in the story-behind-the-story of Zeppelins, this is the book for you, though I’d perhaps wait to dive in until you’ve gotten your feet wet with some basic background reading. Particularly fascinating are Meyer’s investigations into the Zeppeliners’ visits to Detroit to see Henry Ford in the early 1920s, his comparative assessment of French and British airship engineering, and the sad fate of the very last German airship—no, the Hindenburg was not it—before they vanished forever in the age of the airplane.


The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships: Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg

By Harold Dick, Douglas Robinson,

Book cover of The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships: Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg

Why this book?

Harold Dick, a young American engineer, was seconded to the Zeppelin Company between 1934 and 1938, putting him in the unique position of being the only outsider ever allowed within its secretive hangars for a prolonged time. While he was there, he collected data, photos, and reports, compiled a diary, and was on excellent terms with the greatest airshipman of all time, Hugo Eckener, who had been Count von Zeppelin’s protégé and had run the company since before the First World War. All of that, plus the fact that he made no fewer than 22 transatlantic voyages on the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg, makes Dick’s 1985 memoir an extraordinary one.


Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid Airship

By Douglas Robinson,

Book cover of Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid Airship

Why this book?

Robinson was among the finest of airship historians and his work is based on a firm research footing and deep personal knowledge (he also helped edit Harold Dick’s book and traveled round Germany in the 30s). This volume includes chapters on American and British airships, but the real meat is the material on their German counterparts. Sometimes, I’ll be honest, Robinson’s fondness for detail can be a little overwhelming, but there’s no doubt that he knows his stuff, especially on wartime Zeppelins and the bombing campaign. Warning: Giants in the Sky is long out-of-print, unfortunately, but copies are available (for a price).


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