The World War II exploits of the 332nd Fighter Group--the first all-black unit in the US Army Air Forces--is a fascinating story on several levels. The pilots of the 332nd fought long and hard in the skies over North Africa, Italy, and Central Europe. They racked up an impressive record of enemy aircraft shot down, ground targets destroyed and--on the bomber-escort missions they often flew--friendly planes brought home safely. They also paved the way for the integration of the armed forces, and of American society generally, by showing that blacks could handle the stress of battle and the demands of high-performance airplanes just as well as whites. In a world where many (most?) whites saw blacks as innately inferior, the Tuskegee Airmen proved otherwise.
This book is a dense, detailed, information-packed history of the 332nd during and immediately after the war. It's a valuable source on a vital topic, and I'm glad it's out there.
That doesn't, however, make it a great book.
The style, for close to 400 pages, is choppy and unpolished with only a vague suggestion of a strong narrative line. Context is spotty at best, and technical terms sometimes go unexplained. The typography is idiosyncratic, and the inexplicable rendering of nicknames in italics and ranks, abbreviated, in ALL CAPS is distracting in a book where names come thick and fast. The type face itself is ugly, and the reproduction of many of the pictures is substandard. The index consists almost solely of personal names, which makes it intensely frustrating to use if you're not already intimately familiar with the story. To look up an incident in which two members of the 332nd sank a German destroyer, you have to know what their names were . . . no entry for "destroyer," or "strafing," or "naval vessels."
If there were other books out there that provide the sheer volume of facts about the subject that this one does, I'd give it about a star-and-a-half. There aren't, but there ought to be. The 332nd was noted for its professionalism; it deserves a more professionally-done history. Until that book gets written, though, this one (flaws and all) is essential.