Reviews and Previews: Prodigal Son

A troubled man, Gregory Boyington found redemption commanding a U.S. Marine fighter squadron in the South Pacific

At the Black Sheep Squadron's base on the South Pacific island of Espiritu Santo, Boyington (holding paper) briefs his pilots on an upcoming mission. (National Archives and Records Administration)
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“I saw a few,” said Fancy Nancy Technical Sergeant Ray Fredette [a B-17 nose gunner]. “The jets I saw weren’t attacking us. They were observing our bomber stream from quite high up and off to the side. The P-51s took off after them. Just as the P-51s got close, the jets turned on the power and it looked like the P-51s were left standing still.”


Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next
by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 466 pp., $30.

This is not a flying book. Nor an airplane book. What, then, is it about? I’m tempted to say it’s about hubs, because at a conservative estimate the word “hub” appears about 500 times in these 400-plus pages, often three or four times per page, and once five times in four sentences. It’s even used as a verb, as in: “It makes more sense to hub that out of Dubai than Johannesburg.”

Essentially, the book reports on businesses that are made possible by airlines, airports, and air cargo: for example, the global flower business as represented by the Aalsmeer flower market, located six miles from the hub known as Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Aalsmeer is where some 20 million cut flowers arrive daily from Africa, are auctioned off, and then sent on to other hubs in Europe, the United States, and Japan. A second example is the global seafood business, the current hub for which is Germany’s Frankfurt airport, “where a veritable Garden of Eden is kept on ice.” And so on.

The “aerotropolis” of the title is simply the hub itself plus the total set of businesses associated with it, including those that house, feed, entertain, and otherwise serve the needs of passengers who fly to, connect through, or work there: hotels, offices, malls, warehouses, entire cities. Cities have always arisen at ports. What’s new are the speed of jet travel, the continuing increase in the number of travelers, and the complexity of the hub system, which together will supposedly transform everything.

But the future the book describes is largely here already, which makes it hard to take the subtitle seriously. If you’re not a fan of business literature, give this one a miss.

Ed Regis is a frequent Air & Space/Smithsonian contributor.


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