Jet Age; The Comet, the
707, and the Race to Shrink the World by Sam Howe
Reviewed by Ed Potkai
are history books that tell you things you never knew
before. And there are history books which tell you
things you “kind of” already knew but hadn’t thought
about in a long time. Jet Age is a good example of the
may be easier to tell what this book is not than what it
is. It is not a deeply researched technical history of
the development of the jet airliner. It is not a
detective story tracking the mystery of the exploding
Comets. It is not a suspenseful tale of a neck-and-neck
race between two aircraft companies. So what is it?
Perhaps it could be called a guided tour of a place we
visited long ago.
book brings us back to the end of World War II where the
dormancy of civilian air travel was coming to an end.
It follows the decision-making of two companies which
were famous for their military airplanes but had not
been successful in the civilian market. Of course we
already know that De Havilland came up with the Comet
while Boeing developed the 707. The author reveals
facts that enhance our understanding of the processes.
Perhaps the best part of this book is the reminder that,
in the fifties, the aircraft industry was directed by
strong individuals. Geoffrey De Havilland, Bill Allen,
Donald Douglas, Howard Hughes, and Juan Trippe were some
of the celebrated faces on who shaped the future of air
reader has reason to question what Verhovek included in
the book in comparison to what he left out. Although he
goes on and on about the barrel roll of Boeing’s Dash
80, much less mention is made of the Douglas DC-8 (which
initially had more orders than the 707). And he might
have explored how Douglas, the darling of pre-war air
travel, let its big advantage slip away. At only 212
pages, the book seems to be stretching to reach even
that meager page count. The beginnings of air mail and
stewardess concept increase the number of pages but seem
to have little to do with the birth of the jet
Age is an easy read and it is satisfying in many ways.
It will be a fine primer for those with little knowledge
of the era. But for boomers who are interested in
aviation, it may seem more like a script for a program
on the History Channel than the deep-down story of dawn
of the jet age. It’s worth your time but let your
public library pick up the tab.