Jack’s job is the Monday book this week again – so a day late of course – –
I may have reviewed this book some years ago, but there’s nothing wrong with revisiting a book!
When I first read the book I was impressed, first of all, with the description of early Scottish history and then with the history of the ‘Scotch Irish’ in Ireland.
On re-reading, though, I have some doubts. I read ‘Wales – A History’ recently and that sheds a rather different light on the early history of the Celts (or Brythons) and that paints a contrasting picture. The lowland Scots, who were Webb’s ancestors, were part of the Brythonic culture and spoke Welsh rather than Gaelic or Scots. He doesn’t really cover that period well.
Then his coverage of the lowland Scots in Ireland seems to me now to be written strongly from a Protestant point of view and is rather condescending about the majority Catholic population. There is only passing reference to the Potato Famine which was effectively a British ‘pogrom’ against the inhabitants of the country and hugely important.
The book isn’t just a general history, but a very personal history and it’s important to bear that in mind. Webb’s roots are in Appalachia and he really starts from there and weaves everything around that. There’s no doubt that he set out to place himself in that context and that’s fair enough.
Webb writes well and Born Fighting is an easy read, however I would strongly recommend reading other books about the history of the Celts and the Appalachians alongside this one.
Some years ago Wendy and I watched a movie called ‘Wings of Courage’ at the IMax theatre in Chattanooga. It told the story of a pioneering mail flight across the Andes from Chile to Argentina that went badly wrong. The pilot was called Guillaumet and he crashed in the mountains and had to walk over many days through the snow to reach safety. What I didn’t know was that the story was based on a chapter in this book.
As an enthusiast for anything to do with early aviation, I was delighted when Wendy handed me the book from some (pre-quarantine) thrift store outing. She thought I’d find the book interesting and she wasn’t wrong. Saint-Exupery’s writing is wonderful and the translation by Lewis Galantiere does it full justice. The author describes his own experiences as one of the early aviators opening up mail routes around the world – particularly in North Arica and South America. His descriptions of the perils of flying at low altitude and before the days of navigational equipment are amazing and nail-biting.
As I finished the chapter about Guillaumet’s experience in the Andes we watched ‘Wings of Courage’ again on line and it proved very true to Saint-Exupery’s telling of the story. When I came to the final chapter, I was once again blown away as the author described crash landing in the Sahara. He was trying for a record flight between Paris and Saigon and got lost as he was heading for a stopover at the Nile. He plowed into a hill top destroying the plane, but miraculously escaping injury along with his engineer. They struggled for days finding a way to rescue with very little food or water, almost exactly replicating the earlier Andes story, but with sand instead of snow.
The book, however, isn’t all about flying. There’s a good deal of philosophizing about the meaning of life, the relationship between people and peoples, and the futility of war.
I think the only thing that might bother anyone reading the book might be the authors views on the effect of technology on humanity. He appears to view all technological advance as completely benign but I suppose we have to allow for when the book was written.
‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ finishes with the author visiting Spain during the civil war and ruminating on the way a community can be so easily and sadly divided.
Many people know Saint-Exupery best as the author of the children’s classic The Little Prince. He flew a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944 from which he never returned.