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WWII's Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Master of the Sky

by Bruning, John

Race of Aces promises to be just as fast-paced and informative as Bruning's previous works, focusing on the race among the US Air Force's most elite men to become the greatest fighter pilot of WWII.

In 1942, an outspoken Army Air Force general, overlooked for prestigious combat commands in Europe, was given a chance at redemption: General George Kenney was to go to the Pacific theater and forge Douglas MacArthur's defeated air force into a brawny offensive unit that could pave the way for victory over Japan. When Kenney took the job, he was told not to expect reinforcements, supplies, or even spare parts. He spent his first days in command cowering in a mud-filled slit trench as Japanese planes rained bombs down on his New Guinea base, getting to know his pilots and tending to their shattered spirits. With the Nazis sweeping across Europe and the nation reeling from the carnage of Pearl Harbor, these fighters represented the fading hope of America's future, and Kenney was stunned by their state.

Race of Aces is the incredible story of how he and a handful of elite American pilots inspired the country to believe that we could defeat the most formidable enemy America had ever faced -- and the inconceivable price they paid to do it. The race began with a bet. No one, wagered the deadliest fighter pilot -- or "ace" -- of WWI, could beat his score of twenty-six enemy planes destroyed, and if someone did the WWI ace would give him a bottle of bourbon. Seizing on the challenge to motivate his despondent troops, Kenney unleashed what became a wild three-year sprint for fame, glory, and the chance to be called America's greatest fighter pilot.

Five men rose from the pack to compete for the crown, and as their scores mounted, they captured the national spotlight. These young warriors hailed from vastly different backgrounds. Though few had given any initial indication that they would be contenders in the race, they transformed themselves in combat from farm boys and would-be dentists into devastating artists of the modern dogfight. As the press coverage riveted the nation, some of the men grew obsessed, others manipulated the race in their favor, and others resented the growing perception that General Kenney had his own favored ace who was given special treatment. The war with Japan seethed into one of daily skirmishes and, with the casualties mounting, the aces wondered who would survive to take home the prize and who would be outlived by their glory.

Spanning the vast seas and blistering skies of the Pacific theater, Race of Aces is not just a gripping story teeming with white-knuckled action but also a fascinating, unvarnished look at the masterminds and gladiators that led America to triumph in its most dire hour and how they blurred the boundaries between honorable duty, selfless devotion, and the quest for personal glory.

John R. Bruning is the author or collaborating writer of a number of nonfiction books, including the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Outlaw Platoon (Morrow) written with Sean Parnell, Shadow of the Sword with Jeremiah Workman (Ballantine), How to Break a Terrorist with Matthew Alexander (Free Press), House to House with David Bellavia (Free Press), The Devil's Sandbox (Zenith), and Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent with Fred Burton (Random House, a New York Times expanded list bestseller) Bruning is well-traveled as an embedded combat correspondent. For his reporting in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense presented him with a prestigious 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award. For his work with the Oregon National Guard, he was inducted into the 162nd Infantry Regiment in September 2011 as an honorary member. John lives in Independence, Oregon, and has two children.

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Race of Aces is a superb read, taking us through the high-stakes world of our great Aces and the WWII air war...Extraordinary. Wear your G suit and hang on -- this must-read will become a classic.

Quote: Dan Pedersen, Founder of the Topgun program and bestselling author of Topgun

The riveting and emotional story of five American fighter pilots caught up in a deadly competition to claim the title of our nation's Ace of Aces, this book is so powerfully written that you can almost smell the engine exhaust and feel the G-forces in those furious dogfights. Race of Aces is quite simply is one of the best books ever written on World War II and cements Bruning's place as one of our generation's best combat historians.

Quote: David Bellavia, Medal of Honor Recipient and author of House to House

Satisfying. Combat aviation buffs will enjoy Bruning's explorations of a little-known history.

Review: Kirkus Reviews

In Race of Aces, John R. Bruning brilliantly recreates the excitement and terror of one of the greatest untold stories of World War II: the nerve-shredding three-year contest to become America's deadliest fighter pilot. Exhaustively researched and expertly written - with dogfights as vivid and gripping as any I've read - the book confirms Bruning's status as the premier war historian of the air.

Quote: Saul David, author of The Force and Operation Thunderbolt

[John] Bruning's work is a testament and a memorial not just to a handful of tragic heroes, but to those left bereft by this unique and explosive competition on the other side of the world.

Review: New York Times

Selected as one of Amazon's "Best Books of the Month" for January in Biographies & Memoirs and History!

Quote: Hachette Books

Military historian Bruning (Indestructible) delivers a wide-angled view of the careers of America's top WWII fighter pilots in this encyclopedic work.

Review: Publishers Weekly

Eloquent and finely researched. With deft, grit, and no shying away from the horrifying realities of war, John Bruning brings these heroes back to life, defining the struggles of morality, mortality, and glory that suffused their careers. [R]ich with historical information, RACE OF ACES reads like a novel.

Review: Library Journal, starred review

A heart-pounding narrative of the courage, sacrifice, and tragedy of America's elite fighter pilots during World War II. With a cockpit view of the fight, readers will hear the roar of the engines, feel the surge of adrenaline, and wrestle with the exhaustion that gripped these aviators in the marathon battle to become America's top fighter pilot.

Quote: James M. Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author of Target Tokyo

Race of Aces brings you into the cockpit of the lethal, fast-paced world of fighter pilots as they strive to achieve ace-level status...Bruning's unique and intimate look at the struggles of these men to balance honor, duty to country, and their pursuit to be the best makes this account even more fascinating. This is a book you can't put down, and a story you will reflect upon long after turning the last page.

Quote: Sara Vladic, NYT bestselling coauthor of Indianapolis

RACE OF ACES fascinates because of its attention to detail and strong characterization of these remarkable men. Mr. Bruning, the author of the best-selling Indestructible: One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII, has been studying these pilots for two decades. We get to know their strengths, their driving ambitions and their foibles, as well as their loves and hopes in their private lives, so that they come across as real, three-dimensional individuals - not easy to pull off with a collection of 20-something young men, most of whom were killed before the war was over.

Review: Wall Street Journal

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