Book Reviews

By Tom Demerly of


This upcoming November 12th and 13th Nellis Air Force Base Air Show outside Las Vegas, Nevada will host the final flight demonstration of the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II, a multi-mission tactical aircraft that has served the U.S. Air Force, Marines, and Navy for 58 years. The Nellis AFB F-4 Phantom flight display will be the last time the U.S. Air Force flies the F-4 Phantom II in a demonstration, closing out 58 years of incredible history for the aircraft many people in my generation grew up with.

Aviation artist Mads Bangso of Copenhagen, Denmark has created several beautiful profile prints for to commemorate the final flight of the Phantom, the “Phantom Pharewell” series. Two weeks ago I contacted for several of these prints in two versions to bring to Nellis AFB with me for autographing by the last operational USAF F-4 Phantom pilots in history.

aviationgraphics90 shipped my order in flat packaging, not rolled. That makes it easy to handle the prints for framing and display. They also arrive in perfect condition.

I’ve been a collector of aircraft profile prints for years, with some of my collection dating back to the era before the images were computer renderings. These early images were sometimes paintings reproduced for squadron rooms at air force bases around the world. They were extremely difficult to obtain outside the military flying community.

Today advancements in printing and illustration technology along with international distribution and the ability of artists to collaborate on projects around the world more easily have made aircraft profile prints not only easier to obtain, but also better quality and more accurate.

aviationgraphics120 has fully 289 McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II prints available, representing every country that has operated the F-4 across all of its versions. It is likely the largest collection of F-4 Phantom prints anywhere in the world.

Researcher, aviation artist and expert Ugo Crisponi returned my inquiry to and dispatched a collection of F-4 prints for the Phinal Phantom Phlight at Nellis. I received the F-4 prints, along with some other remarkable prints showcasing unique aircraft that will be at Nellis AFB, a week later via air from Italy.


Commemorating the career of (then) Col. Robin Olds and Operation Bolo, this print features his portrait along with his F-4C.

The detail in prints is impressive, especially on aircraft with panel lines, weathering, riveting and unusual stenciling. Color rendering is also rich and accurate. Research for the images comes for both photos and from visits to many of the subject aircraft in person so artists can experience coloration, proportion and exact look of an aircraft before it is rendered. This approach provides optimal accuracy for’s over 70 contributing artists, including Ugo Crisponi and Mads Bangso.


This close-up gives some hint of the detail, color rendering and weathering effects that make these prints so accurate.

Along with the final flight of the U.S. Air Force F-4’s, being flown in the QF-4E versions, many other unique aircraft available no where else in the world will be at the Nellis AFB Airshow. Nellis is the home of the Air Force’s “Red Flag” combat simulation exercise, a full scale aerial combat training exercise that simulates the opening few days of an air war between countries with sophisticated air forces. The simulated combat unfolds over nearly the entire western U.S.


Since it is the annual host of the Red Flag exercise Nellis AFB is also the home of the elite 64th Aggressor Squadron, a unique Air Force unit that flies as “red force” enemy aircraft against U.S. and allied pilots training to defeat a sophisticated adversary. Artist and aviation expert Ugo Crisponi has produced some striking prints of the unique and colorful 64th Aggressor aircraft in their unusual livery.

Nellis will also host some unique Remotely Piloted Vehicle displays from the nearby Creech AFB where RPV combat missions are flown all over the world. I ordered a print of a General Atomics RQ-4 Reaper drone to take to Nellis also to see if I could get a flight crew to sign it.


Since I was ordering from I wanted to add some unique prints of other aircraft you don’t find prints of from any other source. Two of these are the ill-fated F-104N Starfighter flown by test pilot Joe Walker during the tragic mid-air collision with an XB-70 Valkyrie in June, 1966 and a relatively new print of the elite Jordanian Special Operations Command UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter used at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) outside Amman, Jordan.

There are a number of excellent aviation profile print publishers now including the original Squadron Prints, Aircraft Profile Prints and even smaller, one man art houses like Ryan Dorling Military Litho Prints. Each one of these produce beautiful art but has the largest variety of subjects, especially international, and the largest number of artists of any of the publishing houses. I’m thrilled to bring these prints to Nellis AFB with me in November for aircrews to autograph.

By Tom Demerly for


It took three days for me to write this, because writing this makes it real and I didn’t want that.

Robert F. Dorr is dead.

Dorr was “an author and retired senior American diplomat who published over 70 books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous contemporary non-fiction articles on international affairs, military issues and the Vietnam War. Most recently, he headed the weekly “Back Talk” opinion column for the Military Times newspaper and the monthly “Washington Watch” feature of Aerospace America. He is also on the Masthead as the technical editor of Air Power History, [1] the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued Jane’s World Air Power Journal.[2] He has appeared as an expert on numerous CNN, History News Network, C-SPAN and other local and cable television programs.”

That is from his Wikipedia page. I was too upset to write out my own accounting of his work so I just copied those words. That is what he was.

But this is who he was:

Robert F. Dorr was a humble and quiet man who became vast through the written word. The funnel of his imagination brought knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, education and excitement to readers around the world. He truly opened up new worlds from his pages.

Dorr combined the lessons of history with the most novel aspects of literature and entertainment. His lens focused the stories of an entire world experiencing an entire era. He told them like no other.

I worked briefly with Dorr as a beta-reader on his first fiction novel, Hitler’s Time Machine. Dorr was a non-fiction guy, but Time Machine was masterful work. It felt odd to exchange e-mails with him trying to make recommendations for changes.


Dorr leaves behind a family to whom he was a fine father, husband and friends to whom he was a very fine companion around the world.

And we lose something priceless and rare.

I read excerpts from one of Robert’s books to my 93-year old mother. She lived through WWII in Seattle when my dad worked on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, bombers used in the air war against Japan and Germany.

My mom lives in an assisted living home for seniors. I read to her in the pleasant downstairs lobby of her home. As I read Robert F. Dorr’s stories from Mission to Berlin other seniors sat down, listening to Dorr’s narrative of B-17 crews struggling for their lives in the thin, freezing air over Berlin:

“In another bomber of Lyle’s 379th group, 1st Lt. Carl L. “Kayo” Cook was minding his bombardier’s position in the nose and possibly feeling some temporary relief that his Fortress had not yet been hit. Cook had just written to his wife, the former Helen Kraft, in Pender, Nebraska, cheerfully reporting that he’d be home soon because he had just six missions left to fly. He was the father of two daughters, including one born just three weeks before on January 12, whom he’d never seen. Cook’s mother-in-law had recently remarried. The family was planning a big homecoming for him.

A fragment of metal, apparently from a flak explosion, punctured the Fortress’s glass nose, continued into the cramped narrow tube of the fuselage, and killed Cook instantly.

No one else in his plane was touched. Cook’s crew would make it home without him.”

One by one more old people sat down. Some looked at me as I read Dorr’s accounting, others looked at the floor. One man wearing a blue ball cap with “ARMY” scrolled on its ample crown stared out the window as I read. More sat down to listen.

“I remember that” my mom told me. “We didn’t hear about it at the time, but the telegrams came and later the stories”

The crowd of geriatrics, now about eight of them, was transported back through decades and miles and lives by Robert F. Dorr’s narrative. His words restored their youth, their fears, their heroics.

For a few minutes I saw the incredible worth and power of Dorr’s amazing work.

Dorr lived a life I idolize, envy, and aspire to. He was a diplomat, flew in fighter jets, and wrote stories and interviewed heroes and adventurers.

If I could have picked my father it would have been Robert F. Dorr.

I have a couple of his books inscribed to me by him. They seem to glow, feel warm.

I do not believe we die all at once, but a little at a time. And while Robert F. Dorr has passed away he is very much living for us through his amazing narratives. But I know that I have died a little too losing Robert F. Dorr, and I fell heavy under the knowledge that there will be no more stories from him, and no one will ever tell them like he did.


By Tom Demerly for

Handful of Hell 10

Rarely you find a great treasure, a book that reaches back with precious reflection on the past and ignites inspiration for the future.

It’s even more delightful when it celebrates an incredible career.

A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr gives you each of those treasures. Handful of Hell is thoughtfully edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle to adapt its brilliant snapshots for a new age of readers. The result is incredibly special.

This book is something unique a new audience will love, the reader who won’t sit through an entire novel to get to the action. Handful of Hell is “extreme writing”, the X-Games, the Nitro Circus of story telling. That gives these stories new life to a fresh audience.

This anthology also serves as a historical time capsule, not just of the events depicted, but also of a style of writing mostly extinct that shaped publishing and story telling into the age of Ian Fleming, Alistar MacLean, Tom Clancy and even modern thrill-writers like Stephen King, David Baldacci and Brad Thor.

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Author Robert F. Dorr has lived a James Bond-like lifestyle. Born in 1939 he became a shadowy diplomat from Madagascar to Korea to Liberia, Sweden and England. A published author from age 16, Dorr has been seen in every corner of the globe on diplomatic missions and posing next to advanced fighter jets before orientation rides, something reserved for the connected and influential.

In addition to providing a rare and uniquely informed perspective on conflict, espionage and adventure Dorr is incredibly prolific as an author, having published over 70 books and contributing frequently to aviation and defense publications.

In each of the 17 remarkable adventure stories in Handful of Hell Dorr thrills and teaches- history, editing, writing and style. Writing is hard work, and Dorr has been a tireless slave-virtuoso to the trade. He bangs out tense, staccato sentences that hit like a burst of machine gun fire, punctuating the action the way it happened- and the way we want it remembered.

Handful of Hell 20

The post WWII era of the late 1940’s, ‘50’s 60’s, and even early ‘70’s featured a huge population of American men thrust into middle class America from a life fighting or contributing to brutal wars around the globe. Back at home middle class American life had become dull. This audience was looking for escapism in romanticized adventure. An accounting of their lives that added danger, meaning and romance to their personal narrative. Dorr’s writing does that elegantly. It is quick, tight, vivid and often terrifying.

Interestingly, this book works perfectly in the modern age of media, where attention spans are short and appetite for the sensational is strong. Each story is quick and serrated; once it saws into your imagination it won’t release your flesh to the end. Each one is a quick read. That is how audiences were then, and are again- they want tight, fast action in small sound bites. This is YouTube for book lovers, a collection of crashes, combat, catastrophe and heroism written as if a GoPro could make words on a page.

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Since most “sweat” magazines now reside in a musty pile in your grandfather’s basement Handful of Hell is also a historical homage to the era of adventure magazines. If you want to understand that publishing movement, this book will unlock that understanding.

That new 500-page “best seller” thriller novel will gather dust when you crack the binding on Handful of Hell. Its historical relevance, tight, sensational editing and crisp attention to technical detail are far more engaging, entertaining and even educational. As soon as you start reading Handful of Hell you’ll know it is page-fulls of fun.

Handful of Hell 100

Get your own “Handful of Hell” by clicking this photo.

By Tom Demerly.


I was in a small gift shop on an island when I first saw one of Erin Hunter’s The Warriors series books. I opened it and read one page.

And my trip began.

warriors 10

Warriors is an opulent, luxurious fantasy novel series featuring fictional cats who are empowered with mythical abilities. Their mystical powers have roots in ancient lore attributed to Native American, African and Asian cats- including Egyptian mythology. The result is a dream-like journey with loveable characters overlaid on a detailed examination of cat zoology and animal behavior science. Plot lines and morals threaded through the series feel like an amalgam of sacred texts, from Buddhist writing to the Bible and many others.

The Warriors series is immensely complex, featuring a dizzying number of cat-characters. On the Wiki page for the book series one reviewer is cited as saying the series is “confusing due to its large number of characters”.

But the incredible dream-like quality of the scenes, characters and the fairy-tale, Aesop’s-like moral themes unfold at a brisk pace that is incredibly readable and engaging.

“The incredible dream-like quality of the scenes, characters and the fairy-tale, Aesop’s-like moral themes unfold at a brisk pace that is incredibly readable and engaging.”

Author Erin Hunter is actually three writers and an editor/plot director; Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Tui Sutherland write the The Warriors series with Victoria Holms editing.


“Warriors” writing team includes (Left to right) Victoria Holmes, Kate Cary, Tai Sutherland and Cherith Baldry.

This writing team may have created The Next Big Thing. Before you dismiss this idea, let me propose the following:

According to the A.S.P.C.A. there are 96 million pet cats in the United States. Nearly 37% of American households, more than one-third, have a cat. One celebrity cat, Tara the Hero Cat, earns an estimated “$55,000-$463,000 per year” according to the New York Times. Add in other celebrity cats and the total take for the top earning celebrity cats is well over $10 million- probably much more. Now, consider the “Hobbit” film trilogy grossed over $3 billion for three movies, and no one has a Hobbit for a pet. You get the idea; combine cats with a Star Wars style plot line and some convincing computer generated cat characters with celebrity voices and… The commercial potential for The Warriors series is titanic (pun intended), with licensing possibilities for plush toys of each of the cat characters, lines of every pet accessory attributed to the series and about every other standard movie merchandising theme imaginable. The earnings potential is boggling. Why the big movie studios haven’t grabbed this series already is a mystery.

Business potential aside, The Warriors series is why we read. It is escapist, descriptive, creative and pulls you in. Your imagination wanders the mystical forests in the moonlight with the cats. You learn about real cat behaviors and you see your own cats differently after reading these.

I’m a Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Robert F. Dorr fan- technotrhillers, not flowery fantasy stories. But The Warriors series spans genres and speaks across topics to the animal lover and storyteller in me. This series is a gem waiting for mainstream discovery. I’m looking forward to seeing this series explode in popularity and I’m thrilled I discovered it early.



By Tom Demerly for


Running a marathon under 2 hours is the most sensational human endurance barrier left. Is it possible?

Ed Caesar’s new Two Hours (Simon & Schuster) explores the plausibility of breaking the two-hour marathon barrier with narrative and research that will convert a fitness runner to a marathon fan. Romantic and reverent, Caesar develops the characters and brings us inside the story with documentary storytelling and well-researched technical insight.

Two Hours Grips you like a leg cramp at mile 23, holding on and not letting go. From an opening sprint that takes you inside the closed world of elite marathon running and on into the long, slow distance of endurance sports research Ed Caesar sheds new light on a old sport than has been eclipsed in recent years by the drama of Ironman triathlons and the sensation of made-for-TV novelty events. Two Hours reignites the romance and mysticism of the marathon.

Author Ed Caesar returns the reverence to marathon running and puts a face on the athletes who contest the sport at the highest level. He provides fascinating insights into their staggering training mileage and gossamer physical and mental fragility. His accounting is journalistic but his treatment of the subject matter is laced with meaty passion. The combination of the two makes for a tingling read. I had starting line goose bumps nearly the entire time.

Here’s an excerpt:

“As the gun sounded the lead pack was briefly surprised by an unknown competitor. A white athlete, who was not part of the elite field, sprinted the first few hundred meters ahead of the race favorites, if only to say he had- for a time- led the London Marathon. He must have been a decent runner, otherwise he would not have started so close behind the elite, but his challenge only lasted a minute or so. As the lead men swerved to either side of a set of traffic lights, like a stream around a boulder, the phantom sprinter stopped, stooped and caught his breath.

It was an odd moment. From the truck that drove in front of the race, where the managers and coaches of the elite runners watched the race, the reaction to this man’s quest for fleeting glory was a chuckle, or a dismissive hand gesture. These men were in town for business, not japes. But the stunt was also a reminder of the otherworldly accomplishment of the elite runners. After years of witnessing the Kenyans and Ethiopians race mile after mile at a sub 5-minute pace, it was easy to become blasé about their industry and talent. The amateur’s sprint briefly connected everyday runners to the elite and set their wondrous achievements in context. Somehow, the sport at large had forgotten how to communicate that sense of awe. But for those few seconds, it returned.”

The entire narrative of elite marathon racing rings with awe in Two Hours.

Caesar’s accounting isn’t all romance though. He digs into the dirty world of doping in marathon and the secretive deals made between super-runners to maximize winnings through inauspicious and subtle manipulation of the results.

Running literature is filled with classics from writers like Bill Rodgers and George Sheehan. But there hasn’t been a fresh voice in running books since the now-defunct Born to Run that fueled the spurious barefoot craze and saved running from the recession. Ed Caesar’s Two Hours returns credibility and reverence to distance running literature and opens the conversation about the next sensational chapter in human endurance.

If you pick up Two Hours make sure you have an aid station within reach since, once the gun goes off in chapter 1 you won’t want to drop out of the action until the finish line.

By Tom Demerly.


The Max Brooks book, World War Z, opens today as a major summer blockbuster movie already projected to hit $50 million in its first weekend. This review is for the original book.

World War Z is dry-mouth terrifying. A book so masterful and infectious it is actually threatening. Brooks’ unique writing style weaves a sinister tapestry of fiction and reality. And therein lies the horrifying aspect of both this story and the style it is written in.


Left, a scene from the movie inspired by Max Brooks’ “World War Z”. Right, the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Visual proof that the most terrifying aspect of Brooks’ fictional tale are not the zombies.

I am not a fan of the horror genre, either in film or books. I’ve seen enough real horror that the two-dimensional themes of mock horror are pale and irreverent to me. The people who play zombie video games and go to “zombie chase” events boggle me as shielded sheep so removed from the real world they need the mock stimulus of false terror. There is plenty of real terror in the world. I read World War Z at the urging of a friend who works in government service. “I don’t like zombie stories” I told her. “This book,” she said, “has nothing to do with zombies.”

As with other great horror literature from Frankenstein to Dracula and including George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, this story works because of its placement in history. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, foreshadowed advances in medicine and science that were developed before the ethics to employ them. It’s a reality we continue to moderate to this day with genetic engineering and patent protection of organisms. The somewhat earlier Bram Stoker novel Dracula wrestled with themes of sexual revolution and religious skepticism.

“The most terrifying aspect of World War Z is not how the zombies behave, it’s how the living react.”

Max Brooks addresses the terror of a world unified in death that rises up to consume the living. His tale narrates the stages of any uprising, whether it is an uprising of the undead, or an impoverished nation zombified by oppression and lack of human rights. In both a zombie uprising or the Arab Spring the most terrifying aspect of World War Z is not how the zombies behave, its how the living react.


A still from the film adaptation of Max Brooks’ book and a scene from the real life Arab Spring.

For readers acquainted with the tapestry of world events, uprisings and human nature this book rings so true and authentic it raises goose bumps. The book features interviews with key characters in the history of the war. One particularly haunting passage chronicles the experience of a pharmaceutical executive who patented an early “antidote” for the disease spread by the dead that “zombifies” people. “Americans were still praying to the God of science to save them” he rationalized about the false antidote his company introduced. There is even a narration of new programs to reduce the dependency of the public on government aid needed to “repel zombies”. It reads so closely to a BBC headline your mind races to weave together countless real world parallels.


“World War Z” author Max Brooks, son of the comedy maven Mel Brooks, lectures at a U.S. Army presentation.

World War Z is a story that wedges itself into the tiny fissures of human culture, then uses a major dose of fear and a minor extrapolation of fiction to wedge them open. As you read the book you begin to look at culture around you and realize how frail it is, and how few contingencies there are. Most crowded cities are only a power failure, natural disaster, government uprising or other issue away from the scenes described in the book. The fear cultured in this book is the reason why people store canned food and move to the hills. By the time you get to the end of the story, that sounds like a more viable, safer and more sustainable lifestyle that commuting to a 9 to 5 job in Los Angeles.

As you experience the trauma and stress of World War Z you are held in some measure of relief that fiction weaves very simple and uncomplicated enemies. The zombies are unfeeling, not truly living, not at all human. They are absolutely evil. Few enemies in real life are so clearly evil. That makes the story more convenient and underscores the reason why every great leader rallies against the threat of a great enemy- real or contrived. After years of grey conflicts against complex enemies the zombies provide a convenient venting of the collective angst, something societies often crave. It’s another dangerous undercurrent of this tale.

While George Romero pre-dated this story with Night of the Living Dead his metaphor was against prejudice and racism. Max Brooks seems to use his zombies as a culture unified in death rising against a dwindling society of the living. One of the themes oddly missing from World War Z, for all its realism, is any commentary on social media. That omission is haunting, and it isn’t hard to imagine that the virus infecting Brooks’ zombie horde is the virus of instant communication and borderless association, the same way social media crosses borders and infects with almost no resistance.

Most people will see the movie World War Z, and I say you should read the book too. It is a story of the mass psyche, the worst of human nature and most horrifying susceptibilities of society. The story is so relevant and the skill in delivery is so masterful it belongs on the shelf with the great horror classics.