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Best Books of 2021 – Chapter 2

I must admit it was the cover that first attracted me to this book by James Trautman, Pan American Clippers: The Golden Age of Flying Boats.  This vintage image is from an ad poster of the Pan American Clipper landing in the exotic south pacific which is the same as a small postcard my daughter gave me a number of years ago that I often admired hanging on the wall of their home.  Even though I had already read several books about the Clippers as well as Pan American Airways, I still wanted to read this book.  I am glad I did as I discovered it had special connections to both my son and daughter living on the west coast.

The first unexpected connection was the story of the creation of Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. I did know, as my son explained to me on a visit one time, that the island had been created from dredged sediment from the bay, but what I didn’t know was that it was built for the purpose of hosting the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.  But a big part of the island was the inclusion of the western home base for the Pan American Clippers.  The book leaves the fate of the island up in the air as it was taken over by the US military during World War II and then decommissioned in 1996, but I knew it was actually being redeveloped as a multi-use area as my son had been helping to design that while working for his previous company.  Now I had another reason to visit my son and see the melding of the old 1930s art deco and the new.

The second connection was to my daughter through what we affectionately call the “airplane museum”, the Museum of Flight.  All total, there were 28 flying boats built and delivered to Pan Am by three different companies, but it was Boeing that had a lion’s share with 12, almost half the total.  At the museum, there is a display of these Boeing Clippers I had briefly seen before but that I now want to explore in more detail.

These novel amphibious craft at the time were described as the most romantic and luxurious during their short 15 years of service.  What better way to introduce the public to flying?  Sadly, none of the Clippers still exist today with all having been either lost in accidents or scrapped after the war.  But, a great feature of this large book are the numerous vintage photos and posters included on almost every page, many from the private collection of the author who is obviously enamored with them as well.  So, if you are interested in learning more about these unique aircraft alongside vintage images of them, then this is the book for you.

I only noticed this book on my daily BookBub discount list because I had recently finished Matt Haig’s latest book, The Midnight Library.  I had not read any of his books previously but so thoroughly enjoyed his “Library” story, it was an automatic reaction to hit the purchase button for this one published in 2017.  Reading the brief description, this one offered a twist on a time traveler novel.

Rather than traveling back and forth through time, Tom the protagonist in this story has a unique condition that dramatically slows the aging process.  As the book opens, he is 439 years old but looks like a 40-something.  As he makes his way through his daily life in his latest identity in 21st century England, he goes back and relives incidents that occurred to him over the centuries, often with quite famous people, when events collide between the old and new centuries.

But Tom is not alone as there is a society of people with similar conditions.  Other than starting a new life every 8 years to avoid the question of a lack of aging, their main rule is you cannot fall in love.  But that is just what Tom does not once but twice.  And the 2nd time ends in an unexpected and amazing way.

I was sorry to turn the last page of this book as it was so much fun reading it.  If you are a fan of time travel books, you will enjoy this interesting twist on that theme.  And if you do read it and enjoy it, you like me, will look forward to the upcoming movie version of this book.

For those of my generation who grew up in the 1960s enthralled by the excitement of NASA’s highly successful space program, the events on the morning of January 28, 1986 were like a dagger through the heart.  In all of the space flights up to that point, not a single astronaut life had been lost during a space flight (I do acknowledge the previous loss of the three Apollo 1 astronauts, but their fire was on the launch pad).  And yet, a mere 73 seconds after Challenger’s launch, we lost seven.

It has been 35 years since that fateful day in 1986 but the image of the Challenger explosion and the solid booster rockets continuing erratically upward is still seared in my mind.  So, when I ran across this title, Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster by Allan J. McDonald (with James R. Hansen), with the exact same image on the book cover, I was intrigued to learn more.

Not knowing the author, I quickly learned that he was the Morton Thiokol Inc. (MTI) engineer who was at the launch that fateful day and who had the night before in a meeting between NASA and its contractors, strongly opposed the launch on that bitter cold January morning.  He obviously was overruled.  But beyond just that, I had no idea he was heavily involved in the engineering investigation of the accident, the Rogers Presidential Committee investigating the causes, and headed up the redesign of the Solid Rocket Motor (RSRM).

I knew from previous press stories that a compromised O-ring had caused the disaster but what I didn’t know was the sequence of events and other causal factors that ultimately led up to its failure.  To be fair, this is not a book for the technologically faint of heart as it is filled with technical jargon, complex engineering, and loads of acronyms.  But that is what is required to fully explain the accident and once you comprehend these terms (explanations are included in the book) and you become familiar with the acronyms, you will learn what actually happened.

Once you finish this book, not only will you have a thorough understanding of the disaster and the steps necessary to return the Shuttle to safe flight, but you will also have a great appreciation for the incredible job Al McDonald did, the personal sacrifices he made, the tough positions he willingly faced, and the success he brought to the program.

     To be Continued…

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