Download The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War Audiobook

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War Audiobook, by Samuel Hynes Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Samuel Hynes Narrator: Sean Runnette Publisher: Tantor Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: December 2014 ISBN: 9781494578411
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The Unsubstantial Air is the gripping story of the Americans who fought and died in the aerial battles of World War I. Much more than a traditional military history, it is an account of the excitement of becoming a pilot and flying in combat over the Western Front, told through the voices of the aviators themselves. A World War II pilot himself, the memoirist and critic Samuel Hynes revives the adventurous young men who inspired his own generation to take to the sky. The volunteer fliers were often privileged—the sorts of college athletes and Ivy League students who might appear in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Hynes follows them from the flying clubs of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to training grounds in Europe and on to the front, where they learned how to fight a war in the air. By drawing on letters sent home, diaries kept, and memoirs published in the years that followed, Hynes brings to life the emotions, anxieties, and triumphs of the young pilots. They gasp in wonder at the world seen from a plane, struggle to keep their hands from freezing in open air cockpits, party with actresses and aristocrats, rest at Voltaire's castle, and search for their friends' bodies on the battlefield. Their romantic war becomes more than that—a harsh but often thrilling reality. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “Conveys the fervor with which young men rushed to take part in a new form of combat…[and] captures the flyers’ perspective and the rackety, exhilarating experience of flight.”

    New Yorker

  • “[The Unsubstantial Air], both thrilling and poignant, often employs a graceful present tense, and incorporates numerous first-person accounts, many of them newly discovered…And from its pilot’s-eye view it presents a somewhat different World War I from the muddy, poison-gassed charnel house described in so many of the books published to commemorate the war’s 100th anniversary.”

    New York Times

  • “Those young men rose to the challenge, and Hynes has paid them handsome tribute. A terrific book.”

    Washington Post

  • “A beautifully written evocation of the Ivy Leaguers, farm boys, and wild men who flew avions de chasse from (mainly) French airfields.”

    Times Literary Supplement (London)

  • “The finest history of the first air war…Rich and restrained, sparkling with calm humor, full of weather and peril and wisdom and rue, and wholly engrossing from the very first page, The Unsubstantial Air is a monument worthy of the fliers it brings to intimate life.”

    Richard Snow, former editor in chief of American Heritage

  • “Sean Runnette’s voice, pacing, and timbre superbly match their stories—a poignant tone and pause following a death, an increase in pitch as the joy of flying catches hold, and an easy delivery of French terms. Runnette captures the excitement of the young men as they learn to fly, their drudgery waiting for deployment, and the reality of death as so many perish from accidents and combat as this nascent form of warfare develops.”


  • Intimate and memorable portraits of these idealistic, daredevil young men are contained in a marvelously fluid narrative. Kirkus starred review

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About the Author

Samuel Hynes is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature Emeritus at Princeton University and the author of a celebrated memoir of serving as a marine pilot in World War II, Flights of Passage. His book on soldiers’ accounts of twentieth-century wars, The Soldiers’ Tale, won a Robert F. Kennedy Award. He was a featured commentator on Ken Burns’ documentary The War. He is also the author of several works of literary criticism, including The Auden Generation and The Edwardian Turn of Mind, and a memoir, The Growing Seasons.

About the Narrator

Sean Runnette, an Earphones Award–winning narrator, has also directed and produced more than two hundred audiobooks, including several Audie Award winners. He is a member of the American Repertory Theater company and has toured the United States and internationally with ART and Mabou Mines. His television and film appearances include Two If by Sea, Cop Land, Sex and the City, Law & Order, the award-winning film Easter, and numerous commercials.