The China’s Wings bibliography stretches to nine printed pages, most of which I read cover to cover, while sampling generously from the rest. I’d like to pull out a few favorites for recommendation — in no particular order:
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery: His stories of flying the airmail during aviation’s wilderness era. It’s an all-time favorite book of mine, and one of the reasons I always smile when I see a young woman emblazoned in Aeropostale — the name of one of the airlines for which Saint Exupery flew the mails.
Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser: and yes, that’s the same man who authored the classic Flashman series. Quartered Safe is his memoir of campaigning in Burma with the British 14th Army, and in my estimation it ranks alongside E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed as one of the two greatest memoirs of the Second World War.
North to the Orient by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She won the first National Book Award for general non-fiction for this one (jn 1935), about a flying adventure she took with her husband on a great circle route from New York to China in 1931. Interesting, and beautifully written. Relevant to my research, her section on the Yangtze River flood of 1931 provided great insights into the worst natural disaster in recorded history, trumping even the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, which killed 200,000 people.
Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann. The last great memoir of aviation’s Golden Age. (In a clear case of don’t judge a book by its cover, the edition I read must have the ugliest cover in the history of publishing.)
The Chinese in America, also by Iris Chang. I have nothing but respect for Chinese immigrants. In my mind, our country is the stronger and better for their contribution.
No Hurry to Get Home by Emily “Mickey” Hahn. Free-thinking, spicy Mickey Hahn went to China in the late 1930s as a correspondent for The New Yorker. This collection of short stories is one of the results of that happy relationship. Her absolutely classic essay, “The Big Smoke” begins with the memorable line “Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can’t claim that as the reason I went to China” and gets better from there as it details her opium addiction and eventual cure.
China to Me, also by Mickey Hahn. Her thrilling memoir of her years in Asia. Beautifully written. She knew all the main players in China’s Wings and her and her notorious pet gibbons featured in an anecdote I truly adored. Taking it out of the manuscript was the hardest single cut I made. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but never fear, it’ll find its way into this blog sometime soon. And I’ll confess to having more than a little bit of a crush on Mickey Hahn. (Here’s a link to the story: The Hardest Cut, Part I of III)
Shanghai: the Rise & Fall of a Decadent City by Stella Dong. A breezy and entertaining history of the city about which an American missionary once said, “If God allows Shanghai to exist, he owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah.” My kind of town.
Tonya, by Gregory Boyington. A quirky, interesting novel authored by the AVG fighter pilot, Marine Corps ace, Medal of Honor recipient, and source of the excellent quip, “Just name a hero, and I’ll prove he’s a bum.”
Sand Against the Wind: Joseph W. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945 by Barbara Tuchman. A Pulitzer Prize winner and fascinating book about the graduate of my Alma Mata who interests me most. Sent to China, Burma, and India in early 1942, Stilwell certainly got the worst assignment of any senior American officer in World War II.
Flying Tigers by Dan Ford. The story of the American Volunteer Group made fascinating and relevant to me because so many AVG men transferred to CNAC when the Flying Tigers disbanded in July, 1942. I had the honor of interviewing two of them in detail — Dick Rossi and Joe Rosbert — and of shaking the hand of a third, Robert “Catfish” Raine.
Stilwell’s Mission to China, Stilwell’s Command Problems, and Time Runs Out in the CBI, the Army’s official three-volume history of the China-Burma-India theater of World War II, by Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland. These aren’t light reading, not by any means, but they’re the bottom line record of the U.S. Army in the CBI, and they’re by far the best of the official Army histories I’ve read. (Although granted, I haven’t read them all.)
Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945 by Robert M. Dallek. The bottom line on the topic.
The Lady and the Tigers by Olga Greenlaw. A charming memoir by a woman who served with Claire Chennault’s American volunteer group.
China: The Remembered Life by Paul Frillman. Memoir of missionary life in China written by the AVG’s chaplain.
No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Wonderfully told tale of the Roosevelt White House during the war years by a top-shelf historian. And like Mickey Hahn above, I cop to having a crush on her.
Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn. Three stories, one of which is about her trip to China with Ernest Hemingway in 1941. Gellhorn was on assignment for Collier’s to write about CNAC. Her story of Hemingway’s triumphant drinking contest with a pack of Chinese generals had me falling out of bed laughing. It’s an absolute classic. (Here’s a post about Gellhorn, Hemingway, Mickey Hahn and CNAC; and here’s what Hemingway wrote about “my” airline in Islands in the Stream.)
Look Down in Mercy by Walter Baxter. Possibly a great novel. Certainly a groundbreaking one. A brutal and blunt book about a British infantry officer in Burma and his homosexual relationship with his batman. Published in 1951, its homosexual themes probably condemned it to the neglect it has suffered ever since. I have a signed copy, since my mother worked at Baxter’s successful London restaurant The Chanterelle in the middle 1950s and Baxter became something of a mentor and big brother to her. He was one of her most treasured friends until he passed away in 1994. Scroll down this page and find Time’s 1952 review.
Check out Taiping Diptych for two superb books about the Taiping Rebellion that devastated China in the middle of the 19th Century–the bloodiest civil war in human history.