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The Millionaire's Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  105 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
The Millionaires' Unit is the story of a gilded generation of young men from the zenith of privilege: a Rockefeller, the son of the head of the Union Pacific Railroad, several who counted friends and relatives among presidents and statesmen of the day. They had it all and, remarkably by modern standards, they were prepared to risk it all to fight a distant war in France. D
Hardcover, 281 pages
Published May 8th 2006 by PublicAffairs (first published 2006)
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It can be exhilarating, riding the Best Sellers train, reading trending books in unison with the masses. Discovering a new favorite author or reading a lesser known work is also exciting. And of course, winning giveaways is primo exhilarating. I mean, what bibliophile doesn't like free books – right?

Well, I didn't win “The Millionaires’ Unit” from Goodreads. But I did discover it through Goodreads Recommendations. It’s a lesser known work, probably has never been on a Best Sellers list. That’s
Kamrud Jacobson
Sep 18, 2016 Kamrud Jacobson rated it really liked it
An interesting look into a time when wealth and power were concentrated in an exclusive semi-aristocratic class but were also seen as carrying an innate responsibility to contribute something back to your country. The contributions of rich young men who not only risked their own lives but used their advantages to become the leaders of their country in peace and war while reveling in the youthful energies of the old school Ivy League college man.
Feb 17, 2014 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-i
“The Millionaires’ Unit” (Pan Books, 2006) by Marc Wortman is a fascinating account of a flying club started by students at Yale University in 1916/17 that went on to become the progenitor of U.S. naval aviation. This Yale Aero Club was composed of 30-some Elis – all with families who had the means to support their very expensive passion – who when they offered their amateur services to the U.S. Navy in 1917 with America on the cusp of war were rebuffed by the admirals and Secretary of the Navy. ...more
Jun 21, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing
This is a real hidden gem and great read for anyone interested in U.S. history of WW I and the origins of our "Establishment" and more so our military aviation, especially the Navy's fly boys.

The author is an elite-educated and previously employed writer who has been well-situated in life, enabling his writing of this fascinating book. In his introduction, Wortman writes, "Today, relatively few young Americans from comparable [elitist] backgrounds would consider military service -- or self-sacri
3.5 stars. Even though I was predisposed to like a book about Yalie aviation pioneers in WWI, this book didn't disappoint. The book recounts the story (in a rather breathless fashion...) of a group of Yale men who started an aviation unit well ahead of formal American preparations for entry into WWI, driven by a sense of duty to serve (against the tide of American isolationism.) It follows them from their Yale days, through the beginning of their efforts to learn to fly, and eventual deployment ...more
Jan 22, 2017 Jordan rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
A very interesting topic, but a very slow presentation. It was interesting to see the state of American society before the Great War and how that changed as the American entrance into the war grew closer and closer. Trubee Davison was a man before his time, and his foresight into the need of an aviation force was incredibly lucky for the Navy once America actually entered the war. I liked getting to know each of the men within the Millionaires' Unit and seeing how they fell in love with flying. ...more
Feb 25, 2016 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to the CD version of the book and learned about what life was like 100 years ago. I live about 30 miles from Yale and have been on campus a few times; but the Yale of 1916 is a world away from what I have seen in the present. In the book Marc Wortman describes an all male college and mandatory morning chapel attendance. Not now. I was surprised that these wealthy students had such a willingness to sacrifice their college education to start up an aviation unit for the Navy. That was ad ...more
Raj Agrawal
Sep 07, 2015 Raj Agrawal rated it liked it
Rich and detailed account of (primarily) key Yale students' contribution to airpower in WWI. While often challenging to follow, it's clear the author immersed himself in each character's role, feelings, and individual challenges. This book adds necessary texture to WWI airpower; however, the telling is dense, with a lot of investment in Yale culture, traditions, and development over time. Recommended for those specifically looking for more layers in how individual American heroics were fundament ...more
Jan 06, 2013 Jeff rated it liked it
I thought this book was an interesting work of historical literature. The topic it touched on was one I had not heard much about before and it did a good job setting the scene for the time period and the group of people it was talking about. Once the book actually got to the war (WWI) it was very exciting, the only problem was that did not happen till more than half way thought. Most of the beginning of the book was dedicated to describing the lives of the characters and what it was like to go t ...more
Oct 01, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Overall, a very good book. However, it was often difficult to completely relate to the stories of the men in the book. Unless you come from an elite American family, it's difficult to entirely relate to many of their complaints or desires. And that they thought nothing of stealing Geronimo's bones seems unbelievable today. After wading through all of that though, the bravery and sacrifices that the "Millionaire's Unit" displayed is remarkable. It's difficult to imagine a similar group of such pr ...more
Ann Voss
Oct 15, 2011 Ann Voss rated it it was amazing
I have an interest in the Layfayette Escadrille of World War I. They were volunteers who fought with France. The Millionaires' Unit follows Yale men believed the US would enter WWI, and that Naval Air Power would lead the way. Their parents were the Barons of Wall Street, publisher, land Barons, etc. The parents bought them planes, paid for instruction, put them up in their homes on Long Island, and Florida. All the while they tried to convince the government the importance of air power. Fascina ...more
May 27, 2008 Miles rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of my Air Force heritage reading kick (acstually, the kick is still on-going). This book is fun in seeing the character portraits of those men intrumental in forming the first air squadron in the Army. A lot of their views in life have survived the 80 or so years into the operational Air Force that is the inheritor of their passions, wit, character, and cavalier sense of adventure.
Jan 26, 2014 Liz rated it really liked it
I read this book over vacation; a good read. The first half of the book discusses the Victorian-era culture and social situation that the first Yale unit flyers came from. At times it felt like that there was too much emphasis on Yale student life, but by the end of the book, I understood why the author felt it was necessary. The second half of the book covers the experience of aviators during First World War.
This book about a group of Yale students who through their affluence are able to set up a air unit that eventually sees service in the First World War. Personally, I had hoped the book would be much more about the air war aspect. The book did provide of information of how the post-Industrial Revolution aristocracy arose and wielded so much power through their Skull and Bones connections.
Adam Christian Smith
Very interesting early aviation story different from my 40s-era reading.

A time when Yale & Ivy League students were born and bred to be superior Americans up to and including the ultimate sacrifice rather than a path to power to send OTHERS to fight and die.
Katie Christian
Jul 21, 2010 Katie Christian rated it really liked it
A little name/date/time heavy to be entirely engaging, but really interesting. I've often wondered how the Navy got planes, plus - at the end of the book - we won! Yay USA! Only kidding, of course we won :) Yay for the Yale and Harvard boys for doing such a service to their country!
Alex Fernandez
Sep 15, 2012 Alex Fernandez rated it it was ok
One of those books that I feel probably deserves more than 2 stars but for me, it was just an okay read.
Nannie Bittinger
Mar 28, 2010 Nannie Bittinger rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History buffs, aviation enthusiasts
So much information on WWI avaition..I was over-whelmed but my husband who is a pilot and aviation mechanic loved it.
Jun 02, 2007 M rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I learned a lot about the origins of Naval Airpower, and really American Air Power in general from this book. Plus a lot about WWI that I had forgotten since high school.
Brian Eshleman
Shows the ways in which the culture of the elites has changed from a notion of obligation and sacrifice, but it does so while showing the kids involved as real, maturing humans.
Roger rated it it was amazing
Jun 11, 2017
william macchi
william macchi rated it really liked it
Dec 11, 2015
John Drevs
John Drevs rated it really liked it
Mar 04, 2008
Esnellvideo rated it liked it
Sep 29, 2012
Bobby Gibbs
Bobby Gibbs rated it really liked it
Jan 05, 2014
Susan M List
Susan M List rated it liked it
Dec 26, 2014
Don Johnson
Don Johnson rated it really liked it
Apr 08, 2012
Matthew Furber
Matthew Furber rated it really liked it
Dec 16, 2015
Rufus King
Rufus King rated it really liked it
Jan 13, 2013
Sarah Virden
Sarah Virden rated it it was amazing
Jun 20, 2016
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Marc Wortman is an award-winning freelance journalist and independent scholar. His articles and essays on history, science and architecture have appeared in many national magazines. He is the author of The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, which is in development as a feature motion picture.
More about Marc Wortman...

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