Killer Nashville Book of the Day

“The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War” By Samuel Hynes / Reviewed by Megan Roberts

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Photo by Mary S. Cross
Samuel Hynes
Credit: Mary S. Cross

In a world animated by large-scale warfare, young American men enamored with the glamour of the air enlisted in droves to serve as pilots in the First World War. “The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War” by Samuel Hynes spotlights the romance of the Great War and the iconic pilots who waged it.

This experience-based account of World War I rests on an organized collection of pilots’ letters from Europe and is augmented by Hynes’s military and historical knowledge. This portrait is further detailed by Hynes’s experience as a Marine pilot in World War II.

Painting with the strokes of first-hand experience, Hynes captures the idealistic glow surrounding the Great War in the minds of these young recruits, many of whom came from wealthy families and prestigious universities. Europe captivated the imaginations of sophisticated, thrill-seeking men with the allure of beautiful cities, fraternity, patriotism, and the glamour of bellicose glory. Hynes writes, “At [age 22], manhood is not a condition but a goal, and war is a training ground, a test. And death? Death is a romantic dream.”

Pilots enlisted and made the journey from the States to the exciting European arena. “The Unsubstantial Air” explores the alluring glamour of the War while also laying bare the ubiquity of death among the troops, the struggles and very real tragedies of war. Immediate impressions of battle, informed by Hynes’ personal recollections, add depth to the account of a pivotal moment in global history.

Megan Roberts is a student of English Literature making a new home in Nashville, Tennessee.

(If you have a book you would like featured, send an ARC for consideration. The Killer Nashville Book Reviews are coordinated by Clay Stafford with the irreplaceable assistance of Meaghan Hill, Maria Giordano, Will Chessor, and credited guest reviewers. For more writer resources, visit us at

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