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Members' Room: Caroline Alexander, Skies of Thunder: The Deadly World War II Mission Over the Roof of the World, with Wendy Wolf

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 - 6:00 PM | Members' Room | open to the public | $15 per person | registration required


In April 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army steamrolled through Burma, capturing the only ground route from India to China. Supplies to this critical zone would now have to come from India by air - meaning across the Himalayas, on the most hazardous air route in the world. Skies of Thunder is a story of an epic human endeavor, in which Allied troops faced the monumental challenge of operating from airfields hacked from the jungle, and took on “the Hump,” the fearsome mountain barrier that defined the air route. They flew fickle, untested aircraft through monsoons and enemy fire, with inaccurate maps and only primitive navigation technology. The result was a litany of both deadly crashes and astonishing feats of survival. The most chaotic of all the war’s arenas, the China-Burma-India theater was further confused by the conflicting political interests of Roosevelt, Churchill, and their demanding, nominal ally, Chiang Kai-shek.

Caroline Alexander, who wrote the defining books on Shackleton’s Endurance and Bligh's Bounty, is brilliant at probing what it takes to survive extreme circumstances. She has unearthed obscure memoirs and long-ignored records to give us the pilots’ and soldiers’ eye views of flying and combat, as well as honest portraits of commanders like the celebrated “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell and Claire Lee Chennault. She assesses the real contributions of units like the Flying Tigers, Merrill’s Marauders, and the British Chindits, who pioneered new and unconventional forms of warfare. Decisions in this theater exposed the fault lines between the Allies - America and Britain, Britain and India, and ultimately and most fatefully between America and China, as Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed to help the Chinese nationalists in order to forge a bond with China after the war.

Caroline Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of The Endurance, The Bounty, The War That Killed Achilles, and other acclaimed works of narrative nonfiction as well as of a new translation of the Iliad. She has written for the New Yorker and National Geographic Magazine, where she was a contributing writer for many years.

Wendy Wolf recently retired as Vice President and Associate Publisher at Viking Books, having been an editor there since 1994. Her authors included Daniel James Brown, John Barry, Beverly Gage, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Caroline Alexander.

This event is generously sponsored by Polymath Educational Services - providing personalized support for teens with learning differences.

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