Angels in the Sky
(W. W. Norton & Co., 464 pages, $15.54)
Picture the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as The Magnificent Seven (the original with Yul Brynner), but in this version, the horses are ersatz Messerschmitt Bf 109s and the hired guns are a wildly varied—and slightly motley—group of volunteer pilots. Now, instead of thrusting them into the battle between a beleaguered small town in Mexico and an overwhelming number of banditos, place them into the fiery gap between the newly formed country of Israel and most of the Arab world. That is the background of Bob Gandt’s newest piece of highly accurate tale telling, Angels in the Sky. It is the best, most detailed telling of one of the least known yet most gripping survival tales of modern times. Winston Churchill’s famous quote about so many owing so much to so few absolutely applies to this conflict.
When they began planning their independence, Israel had no air force, and the United States made it technically illegal for Americans to support, or engage in, any of the “activities” foreseen between Israel and everyone else. So the flow of a few dozen pilots and airplanes was underground and soaked in the intrigue worthy of any spy novel. It’s compelling reading as David fights Goliath.
Gandt is the reigning king of what some call “faction”: the detailed recounting of factual history in a way that makes it feel like fiction. This is a story that desperately needed telling and Bob Gandt, an ex-U.S. Navy fighter/attack pilot, was the guy to tell it. Nicely done, sir!—