Wednesday 3 May 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Richard Eager, A Pilot’s Story

I was lucky enough to be sent a free review copy of this excellent book. I’ve actually had it quite a while now. I was initially somewhat chary of reading it, as it has the look of a self-published work. 

And so, I believe, it is. Either that or it’s published by a small specialty publisher. Whatever the case may be, it is sometimes a bit like one might expect such works to be; a bit amateurish, and would’ve benefited from some firm but fair editing. 

Having said all of that, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Truth be told, it’s very well written, esp’ so for someone who isn’t primarily an author or writer, but a good ol’ U.S. of A. ‘flyboy’! 

Many chapters start with Eager’s poems. And whilst they’re not Shakespeare or Longfellow, I think they’re a good inclusion, showing another facet to a military man many might’ve assumed could be lacking in sensitivity or artistic leanings. 

Occasionally it’s a tad repetitive. And when renders conversation, he does so - especially regarding his own ‘voice’ - in a somewhat stiffly formal manner. One suspects recorded transcripts of these moments might’ve been slightly less stuffy, or expository. 

Having said that, Eager was the son of a high school principal, a good Boy Scout, and a military man, through and through. So there’s a slim chance, I suppose, that he really did talk as he renders himself here. But I really suspect not. His character comes across as too human. And sometimes his speech here is almost robotically leaden!

But the thing is, he lead a very interesting life. And he was, by the sounds of it (admittedly his own self-portrait) a pretty ‘good egg’, as we Brits might say.* The book itself was written at the urging of friends and family. And they also helped bring it completion in its current form. 

How much it owes its interesting back and forth structure - it jumps around from youth to adulthood in a very engaging way - to Eager, and how much to later editorial interventions, I’m not sure. It’s a clever way to make the book more compelling, and works a treat. 

We learn about what seems to have been a pretty idyllic all-American childhood, with trips to a cottage in the mountains (built by his father and others). And then how he managed to get himself enrolled on a unique flying course, before the war brought America into the fight. 

We learn about his family. And early romances. There’s even a very funny bit about a teacher he’s fond of and a fart in her classroom that she mis attributes to poor young Dick! And then there’s a really touching and moving bit about his dog, Judge. 

All of this is woven into the more ‘officially’ significant story of how he wound up becoming Monty’s pilot, flying the victor of El Alamein around in a U.S. B-17 bomber converted into an airborne office-cum-taxi. But Richard Ernest (earnest and eager!) Evans’ life is ultimately fascinating for both his civilian and military experiences.

It’s supplemented by lots of pertinent photos, some very personal to Eager, some stock WWII ref, but still very relevant to the story this book tells. There’s also detailed ‘chronology’, lots of his correspondence, and a very useful glossary. 

This truly excellent book tells the story of a very interesting and seemingly very decent man, living through extraordinary times. I’m not a military man myself (although I love military history). But nevertheless, Richard Evans, I salute you!

I’m writing this review as I near the end of the book. The vast majority of which is given over to childhood and young adulthood (I haven’t yet read the epilogue, which I suspect summarises some of the rest of his life). I’ve really enjoyed the read, and would definitely recommend it. 

* He often refers to the various form of national linguistic peculiarities he encounters, serving in WWII alongside Canadians, Australian, Brits and his own fellow Americans.