Monday, January 13, 2014

Non-fiction Surprise

I have never been much of a non-fiction reader.  I would not have done well if STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) had been a big push in public schools like it is now.  Schools are promoting the reading of non-fiction over fiction now, and that has never been something I'm very interested in.  For fun, I mean.

But recently I've begun reading non-fiction, and if the book is right, I love it!  What I'm noticing is that the non-fiction I like tends to read like fiction, which makes it all the more amazing, because it's true.  The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction is apparent in these books.

I thought I'd share a few of these titles, just in case any fiction-readers out there might want to dip a toe in the non-fiction lake.

First up is Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff.  For comparison purposes, this is like a historical Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum book (without Clancy's incredible detail for every military weapon and machine).

I've discovered I'm not very good at describing this book, so I'm going to keep it brief.

In WWII, the Allies set up posts in Greenland, both to provide air and sea routes to Europe, and to keep Germany from using Greenland for air and sea routes to North America.  Greenland is much more treacherous than I ever imagined, and airplane were constantly crashing into and on the glaciers.  In 1942, there was a domino effect of crashes as plane after plane attempted to rescue the crashed plane before it.  Many men died, and some men lived.  The men who lived survived harrowing conditions: five months during winter in Greenland, living underneath the wing of their destroyed airplane.  Boats are also involved, as well as rescue attempts on foot via snowmobiles and dogsled.

Interwoven through this incredible adventure tale is a modern story.  A company wants to find, in particular, one of the planes that crashed while trying to rescue some men: a Grumman Duck which had been attached to a Coast Guard cutter.  The Coast Guard decided to help, because this particular Grumman Duck pilot was the only Coast Guard soldier who had never been brought home to the United States.  (A side note, in case you are thinking that this wouldn't be a big deal: the Coast Guard is NOT, in fact, limited to patrolling the United States.  They have fought, internationally, in WWII, Vietnam, and other conflicts.)

You must remember that this plane crashed 70 years ago, on an active glacier.  So it would have been moving over the years, and buried under who-knows-how-many feet of snow and ice.  In addition, the records are not clear about where the plane crashed.  Flight conditions were terrible, and almost all of the notes from anyone concerned were contradictory.

Amazingly, the boat has been found!  Thought it hasn't been recovered yet.  Hopefully next summer, 2014.

This book was non-stop adventure that was wilder than any military and/or survival fiction I've ever read.  I read it in two days, and it would have been less if I hadn't had to go to work.  Here are some more links if you're interested.

The book on Amazon.

The U.S. Coast Guard, if you're interested in it's history and missions.  Note that Homeland Security is in charge of the Coast Guard.

Perhaps most fascinating, Mitchell Zuckoff's (at the time) live blog of the recovery effort this past summer, 2013.  He was part of the mission!

If you are wondering what a Grumman Duck looks like, here are some pix.

More non-fiction recommendations to come in the future!  If you have a favorite non-fiction book, please recommend it in the comments!