The best aviation books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about aviation and why they recommend each book.

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Voices from the Plain of Jars

By Fred Branfman,

Book cover of Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War

During the CIA’s covert war in Laos between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on the country, a planeload every 8 minutes for 9 years and makes Laos, along with Cambodia, which shared a similar fate, is the most bombed country in the world. To this day, countless people, many of them children, are maimed and killed by unexploded ordinance that remains hidden in the country’s soil. Fred Branfman, a young American stationed in Laos in the late 1960s, discovered the bombing and exposed the CIA’s covert campaign of terror.

Branfman not only interviewed more than 2,000 refugees of the bombing but motivated many survivors to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. This book, an excellent antidote and companion piece to Air America, is the result.


Who am I?

I’m a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited beautiful, land-locked, and sleepy Laos in 2000, as the country reluctantly reemerged from post-revolutionary isolation. I researched and co-wrote The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature documentary on how the CIA created a clandestine army to fight Laotian and Vietnamese communists, rigged elections, and eventually destroyed much of the country with carpet bombing. This slice of secret history forms the narrative backbone of my novel. The Man with the Golden Mind is a spy thriller, as well as an ode to one of the most isolated countries in the world.


I wrote...

The Man With The Golden Mind

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Man With The Golden Mind

What is my book about?

Detective Maier is hired to investigate the death of an East German culture attaché killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976. But before the detective can set off, his client, the attaché’s daughter Julia, is kidnapped. Maier follows Julia's trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets. The real prize, however, is the file's author: someone codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy no one has seen for a quarter-century.

Maier needs to dig deep into the past - including his own - in order to make sense of the present. The Man With The Golden Mind is an action-packed thriller of sex, drugs, assassinations, and double-crosses.

The Tenth Air Force in World War II

By Edward M. Young,

Book cover of The Tenth Air Force in World War II: Strategy, Command, and Operations 1942-1945

If you could only have a single book about American involvement in the air war over Burma during World War II, this would be the one. Ted Young’s history of the Tenth Air Force has it all, from high-level political maneuvering (and there was plenty of it) and seemingly endless reorganizations to in-the-cockpit combat accounts and a generous selection of photos and maps. He describes in detail the constantly shifting priorities and strategies faced by the Tenth Air Force, along with the many innovative tactics and techniques developed by units such as the First Air Commando Group. In addition, Young brings fresh insight into many of the officers who led the efforts in Burma, men such as Clayton L. Bissell. Young describes him as “a capable staff officer with broad administrative experience” who nevertheless was unable to establish a good working relationship with Claire L. Chennault, his more colorful counterpart…


Who am I?

Carl Molesworth’s interest in China and the Far East dates back to childhood memories of stories told by his mother and grandmother of their experiences living in China during the 1920s. He acquired his interest in aviation from his father. Carl began researching the air war in the China-Burma-India Theater while working as a newspaper editor in the late 1970s and published his first book on the subject, Wing To Wing – Air Combat in China 1943-45, in 1990. Of his 14 subsequent books, nine have covered various aspects of air combat in the CBI.


I wrote...

Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

By Carl Molesworth,

Book cover of Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

What is my book about?

Bill Reed had it all ­- brains, looks, athleticism, courage, and a talent for leadership. After a challenging childhood in Depression-era Iowa, Reed joined the US Army Air Corps, but the outbreak of World War II saw him give up his commission. Instead, he travelled to China to fly for the American Volunteer Group - the legendary Flying Tigers. 

This book is a biography of his extraordinary life, focusing on his time spent flying with some of the famous aerial groups of World War II. It draws heavily on Reed's own words, along with the author's deep knowledge of the China air war and years of research into Reed's life, to tell his compelling story.

The Girl in the Picture

By Denise Chong,

Book cover of The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War

Telling the story of the girl who became an international icon when the Associated Press published a photograph of her running from napalm bombing in her village in 1972, Denise Chong’s The Girl in the Picture offers insight into the day-to-day lives of South Vietnamese villagers who simply wanted to survive. Caught between the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese military and the National Liberation Front, villagers often had family members fighting on both sides of the war, not because of divergent ideological beliefs, but because repressive recruitment efforts left young men no choice but to enlist. Through the eyes of Kim Phuc, Denise Chong’s book humanizes life on the ground in a war zone and describes what happened when U.S. troops left the country.

Who am I?

I fell into researching women’s antiwar activism during the U.S. war in Vietnam by chance when I came across evidence of middle-aged American women traveling to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1965 to meet with women from North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front—the enemies of the United States at the time. Discovering that some of these same U.S. women (and many others), would later travel to Hanoi despite the United States conducting extensive bombing raids over North Vietnam, despite travel to North Vietnam being prohibited, and despite some of the women having young children at home, simply astounded me, and I had to find out more.


I wrote...

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

By Jessica Frazier,

Book cover of Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

What is my book about?

In 1965, fed up with President Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to make serious diplomatic efforts to end the Vietnam War, a group of female American peace activists decided to take matters into their own hands by meeting with Vietnamese women to discuss how to end U.S. intervention. While other attempts at women’s international cooperation and transnational feminism have led to cultural imperialism or imposition of American ways on others, Jessica M.Frazier reveals an instance when American women crossed geopolitical boundaries to criticize American Cold War culture, not promote it.

The American women not only solicited Vietnamese women’s opinions and advice on how to end the war but also viewed them as paragons of a new womanhood by which American women could rework their ideas of gender, revolution, and social justice during an era of reinvigorated feminist agitation.

Bury Us Upside Down

By Rick Newman, Don Shepperd,

Book cover of Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail

As a pilot and an American, I found the content of this extremely well-written book mesmerizing. As a writer and editor, I was blown away by the clean copy. More impressively, both authors replied to my emails. Rick Newman is the wordsmith, and I daresay perfectionist. Upon learning I found only two typos in over five hundred pages, he begged to know where. Major General Don Shepperd, USAF Retired, was a Misty pilot in Vietnam who graciously agreed to be a technical consultant on my novel. His inside knowledge of the continuing struggle to return remains of US service members was invaluable. 


Who am I?

As a western mystery writer, rancher, veterinarian, wife, mother, farrier, horse trainer, gardener, seamstress, pilot, homeschooler, tractor jockey, and all-around hand, I conclude that every experience in life is grist for the mill leading to settings, scenery, plots, and character motivations.


I wrote...

The Captured

By Nishi Giefer,

Book cover of The Captured

What is my book about?

Writing not Quite Forgotten involved months of research, interviews, and a lot of reading about American POWs. After I submitted the manuscript, there was so much information still banging around in my brain I felt compelled to write a second story but this time from the point of view of Sergeant Heinrich Schleisser, a German captured shortly after the Normandy Invasion and shipped to Camp Clarinda in my native Southwest Iowa.

Wounded and dazed, thousands of miles from home, worrying about his family and wondering when he would see them again, Schleisser begins to shed the war and heal his soul by thinking again about milking, planting, and building instead of killing, burning, and destroying.

Pacific Payback

By Stephen L. Moore,

Book cover of Pacific Payback: The Carrier Aviators Who Avenged Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway

It was the carrier-based dive-bombers that carried the day at Midway, and Moore’s narrative non-fiction account of the battle through the eyes of the actual men who fought at Midway in these dive-bombers is an entertaining and gripping page turner. You learn of their fears, the uncertainty, and of their humble courage. Moore brings you with them in their SBD Dauntless cockpits. These men were what the United States had at the onset of the Pacific War, and Moore’s tribute to them is moving.


Who am I?

I am a retired U.S. Navy carrier pilot, having flown the A-7 Corsair II and F/A-18 Hornet operationally, and formerly the Executive Vice President of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. Over 20 years I have spoken about the battle to diverse audiences, and my historical fiction novel The Silver Waterfall was written without changing any facts of the battle and features the real men who fought it. I am also the author of the Raven One trilogy of aircraft carrier techno-thrillers.


I wrote...

The Silver Waterfall: A Novel of the Battle of Midway

By Kevin Miller,

Book cover of The Silver Waterfall: A Novel of the Battle of Midway

What is my book about?

If you’ve wondered what more could be written about the Battle of Midway, here’s the answer: Kevin Miller has delivered the perfect amalgam of vivid military history and unforgettable fiction. Through the viewpoints of the combatants on both sides — pilots, gunners, sailors, fleet commanders — The Silver Waterfall evokes the drama and raw terror of the battle that changed the course of the war. Historical fiction at its best. — Robert Gandt

Flying Tigers

By Daniel Ford,

Book cover of Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942

In my bookshelf alone I count eight unit histories of the American Volunteer Group, the storied band of American pilots and technicians who fought for China in the first seven months of America’s involvement in World War II. I’m sure there are more. But when I need to check a fact about the AVG, the first book I turn to is Daniel Ford’s 1991 work. Ford was the first author to research Japanese sources to tell the full story of the Flying Tigers, and for that he was roundly criticized by AVG veterans who felt he had denigrated them by revealing that Japanese records did not support all of the AVG claims of combat success. In my view, however, the important contribution of the AVG was not the number of enemy planes its pilots did or didn’t shoot down but instead was the morale boost its successes gave to an…


Who am I?

Carl Molesworth’s interest in China and the Far East dates back to childhood memories of stories told by his mother and grandmother of their experiences living in China during the 1920s. He acquired his interest in aviation from his father. Carl began researching the air war in the China-Burma-India Theater while working as a newspaper editor in the late 1970s and published his first book on the subject, Wing To Wing – Air Combat in China 1943-45, in 1990. Of his 14 subsequent books, nine have covered various aspects of air combat in the CBI.


I wrote...

Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

By Carl Molesworth,

Book cover of Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

What is my book about?

Bill Reed had it all ­- brains, looks, athleticism, courage, and a talent for leadership. After a challenging childhood in Depression-era Iowa, Reed joined the US Army Air Corps, but the outbreak of World War II saw him give up his commission. Instead, he travelled to China to fly for the American Volunteer Group - the legendary Flying Tigers. 

This book is a biography of his extraordinary life, focusing on his time spent flying with some of the famous aerial groups of World War II. It draws heavily on Reed's own words, along with the author's deep knowledge of the China air war and years of research into Reed's life, to tell his compelling story.

Fighter Pilot

By Robin Olds, Ed Rasimus, Christina Olds

Book cover of Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

I knew and interviewed General Robin Olds (he is in my next book out June 8th, 2021), and his daughter Christina. His story is a wonderful addition to the history of American airpower, leadership, and the character of a great man who defied the odds, and even his superiors rather than back down from what he knew was right.


Who am I?

I began reading about history as a child and fell in love with the WW II aviation stories. Later in life I was able to meet many of the men I read about, interview them, and then write my books with their first person accounts. The greatest satisfaction was putting former enemies together who I could prove had fought each other. The reunions were amazing.


I wrote...

The Star of Africa: The Story of Hans Marseille, the Rogue Luftwaffe Ace Who Dominated the WWII Skies

By Colin D. Heaton, Anne-Marie Lewis,

Book cover of The Star of Africa: The Story of Hans Marseille, the Rogue Luftwaffe Ace Who Dominated the WWII Skies

What is my book about?

This is the true story of a boy who became a fighter pilot, an expert at his craft of killing, but a humanitarian who was deeply disturbed by his profession. His uneasy relationship with the Nazis created a tense atmosphere that would have had disastrous results, had he not become one of Germany's most decorated and vaunted war heroes. His combat record is interspersed with the comments from the pilots he flew with and those he flew against. The story is so incredible, fiction could not duplicate it.

The First Team

By John B. Lundstrom,

Book cover of The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

First published over thirty-five years ago, The First Team remains the definitive account of the naval air war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Lundstrom, examined almost every relevant record in the National Archives and Naval Historical Center, arranged for the translation of  Japanese materials, and corresponded with, or interviewed dozens of naval aviation veterans, including the legendary John S. Thach and E. Scott McCluskey.  The book includes seven appendices that provide detailed information on subjects ranging from naval flight training to “Fundamentals of Aerial Gunnery” to a detailed list of the makeup of every fighter squadron embarked on the five U.S. carriers in the Pacific from December 1941 to March 1942. 

Unusual for such a detailed work, it also provides the reader with a genuine feel for the desperate and contingent nature of the Pacific war from Pearl Harbor to Midway when the U.S. Navy’s “First Team”…


Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   


I wrote...

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

By Ronald Spector,

Book cover of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

What is my book about?

On the day of Japan’s surrender, General Douglas MacArthur declared in a radio address “ today freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the March.” The question, after Japan’s “Greater East Asia“ crashed in flames was, whose freedom? And, the freedom to do what In the burnt-out ruins of the old empires of the British, the Dutch, the French, and the Japanese?

Everything was up for grabs and new wars soon broke out all through the territories just “liberated” from the Axis. In Indochina and Indonesia Nationalists fought bloody battles against the British Commonwealth forces that had supposedly come to “liberate” them. In China there were two claimants for power,  Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Zedung; in two Korea two as well, Kim Il Sung and Syngmun Rhee. The thousands of Japanese soldiers still in Asia fought for all sides. Indeed, it might appear to some observers that World War II never ended, everybody just switched sides. In the Ruins of Empire was a New York Times Book Review “Editor”s Choice” book.

Call-Sign Kluso

By Rick Tollini,

Book cover of Call-Sign Kluso: An American Fighter Pilot in Mr. Reagan's Air Force

Plenty of memoirs have been written by combat pilots, but Call Sign Kluso is truly one-of-a-kind. It weaves a captivating personal narrative within the context of America’s resurgence from the post-Vietnam era, while demonstrating the US Air Force’s transformation into the high-tech, cutting-edge organization that defeated Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm. 


Who am I?

Mike Guardia is an Amazon Top 100 Bestselling Author and military historian. A veteran of the United States Army, he served six years on active duty (2008-2014) as an Armor Officer. He has written and lectured on various topics of modern military history, including guerrilla warfare, air-to-air combat, and World War II in the Pacific. He holds a BA and MA in American History from the University of Houston.


I wrote...

Tomcat Fury: A Combat History of the F-14

By Mike Guardia,

Book cover of Tomcat Fury: A Combat History of the F-14

What is my book about?

For more than three decades, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was the US Navy’s premier carrier-based, multi-role fighter jet. From its harrowing combat missions over Libya to its appearance on the silver screen in movies like Top Gun and Executive Decision, the F-14 has become an icon of American airpower.

Now, for the first time in a single volume, Tomcat Fury explores the illustrious combat history of the F-14: from the Gulf of Sidra…to the Iran-Iraq War…to the skies over Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror.

Baa, Baa Black Sheep

By Gregory “Pappy” Boyington,

Book cover of Baa, Baa Black Sheep

The copy I read came from my dad’s collection. It was signed by the author. I don’t know how Dad knew Pappy Boyington, but years ago when Dad and I were walking through a throng of people at Oshkosh, Pappy broke away from a conversation with two very attractive women to wave and call Dad by name. A teenager at the time, I stood in utter shock and amazement while my dad talked planes with a legend. Though the book covers Pappy’s exploits before, during, and after World War II, a large segment is devoted to his time in a Japanese prison camp. One of his fellow detainees was Louis Zamperini, famous Olympic miler. 


Who am I?

As a western mystery writer, rancher, veterinarian, wife, mother, farrier, horse trainer, gardener, seamstress, pilot, homeschooler, tractor jockey, and all-around hand, I conclude that every experience in life is grist for the mill leading to settings, scenery, plots, and character motivations.


I wrote...

The Captured

By Nishi Giefer,

Book cover of The Captured

What is my book about?

Writing not Quite Forgotten involved months of research, interviews, and a lot of reading about American POWs. After I submitted the manuscript, there was so much information still banging around in my brain I felt compelled to write a second story but this time from the point of view of Sergeant Heinrich Schleisser, a German captured shortly after the Normandy Invasion and shipped to Camp Clarinda in my native Southwest Iowa.

Wounded and dazed, thousands of miles from home, worrying about his family and wondering when he would see them again, Schleisser begins to shed the war and heal his soul by thinking again about milking, planting, and building instead of killing, burning, and destroying.

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