Book Review 10: R.E.G. Davies on British Airways

British Airways, An Airline and its Aircraft, Volume 1, 1919-1939 THE IMPERIAL YEARS.
R.E.G, Davies
Paladwr Press, 1901 Wilson Lane, Apt 101, McLean, VA, 22102
Telephone 703 356 8352; FAX (703 356 3937; $35.00, 2006.

People of my generation can recall a time when there were so few books on aviation [being published that you could, without too much difficulty, buy everything that came out and still not break your budget. Today, there are wonderful books on aviation in the thousands, and you have to choose carefully to avoid going broke at the book store.
Aviation books were different then as well, for they generally addressed wide topics in the manner of Assen Jordanoff’s Through the Overcast, James G. Thompson’s Aircraft Drafting Room Manual or Claud J. Dry’s Aerial Photos—How to Make and Sell Them. The rush started after the Second World War, with first a trickle of books that whetted the appetite. These were led by the Harleyford series from Great Britain, which were well researched and well illustrated for the time. There followed a whole host of books, and today we have a tumultuous stream cascading from publishers, covering virtually not only every subject, but every aircraft.
As a result, even if you have endless funds, you have to be selective, simply because you will otherwise run out of shelf-space (as well as out of the good graces of your spouse.) And while there are more books than ever before, one has to say that for the most part, they are better than ever before in terms of paper quality, illustrations, and the level of research. If anything, there is perhaps a tendency for some authors to become too particularized, to zero in on too small a subject, so that their audience is also necessarily small.
Among the specialist books of recent issue, none can be more highly recommended than British Airways, An Airline and its Aircraft, Volume 1, 1919-1939 THE IMPERIAL YEARS.
Written and published by the dean of air transport writers, the prolific R. E. G. Davies, this is a “must have” book on a variety of levels. First of all, if you have any interest in airlines or airliners, you have to succumb to the glamour of British Airways, with its sometimes strange but always strangely beautiful aircraft. Second, in this book Davies demonstrates yet another skill (Besides being the most respected writer of airline histories, Davies is a novelist, an expert on jazz, a football (soccer) connoisseur, an expert in marquetry and a fascinating speaker.) Now he adds to his repertoire by doing not only the maps for which he is well-known, but also draws the aircraft, under his friend Mike Machat’s art direction. The result is a book so superb in appearance that you don’t realize how jam-packed it is with anecdotes and facts. Davies not only knows his subject, he personally knew some of the people and with them, makes his subject come alive.
Always generous with his praise, and quick to acknowledge his sources, Davies pays a special tribute to John Stroud, who labored virtually alone in the early years, producing or editing one classic book after another.
Any reasonable aviation library will have well-worn copies of Davies’ previous masterworks, such standard references as A History of the World’s Airlines, Airlines of the United States Since 1914, and so on. The true enthusiast will also have copies of all nine of his previous Airline Histories, and the devotee will have the pleasure of adding Rebels and Reformers of the Airways, Fallacies and Fantasies of Airline History and Supersonic Nonsense to the list. This book on British Airways may well be the best of them all, for it is written from Davies’ heart as well as his mind, and his devotion to the people and the planes shows on every page. As Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge says in his Foreword, this book “may come be regarded as the jewel in the publisher’s crown.”

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