Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Last Pilot” as Want to Read:
The Last Pilot
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Last Pilot

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,104 ratings  ·  223 reviews
"Harrison sat very still. On the screen was the surface of the moon."

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days cheating death in the skies above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho's bar, often with his wife, Grace. She and Harrison are secretly desperate for a child-and when, against all odds,
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Picador (first published June 30th 2015)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Last Pilot, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Last Pilot

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,104 ratings  ·  223 reviews

More filters
Sort order
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it
This book caught my attention immediately – a story about test pilots, the Space Race and the first astronauts, and a compelling narrative about one of those pilots, his wife, and their desire to start a family. Jim Harrison is a U.S. Air Force test pilot who risks his life on a daily basis. Grace is a devoted wife that waits anxiously for her husband to walk through the door every night, hoping his photo won’t be the next on the wall of dead pilots down at the local bar. It’s the late 1940s and ...more
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

I thought this book was really sad. It's good but it's sad too. You have Harrison who is a test pilot for the US Airforce and his wife Grace. Every day there is the fear that Jim isn't going to make it back home.

I think the author did a great job at explaining some things a test pilot does that I would have never known.

But this book isn't just about that, it's about friends and family. Jim and Grace have a hard time trying to have kids and they have some rea
Joanne Harris
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best début novel I've read in years. You can read about the plot elsewhere, but for me, the beauty of this novel is in the balance of the dialogue; the sustained emotion that runs through the whole; the haiku-like simplicity of the prose (and trust me, it takes a long, long time to create that sense of effortlessness). Like so many of America's stories, this is a Western in disguise; a quiet, limpid Western, where the action mostly takes place in the air and in the chambers of ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-reads
I really don't want to write a lukewarm review, but I didn't like this much and know a couple of reasons why. Johncock has some nice descriptions of the Mohave desert, and empty bars, and loneliness, and the cold interior of the cockpit. But I found his dialogue truly boring and hated the family story - the marital arguments, the wife's shrillness, the protagonist's taciturnity, the tragic deaths, the general sentimentality - it read like a Lifetime movie script. Also, I disagree with those who ...more
Ron Charles
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although Benjamin Johncock is a young writer in England, in "The Last Pilot" he re-creates the early days of the U.S. space program like someone who lived through them. His story opens in 1947 when a hot-shot Air Corps captain named Jim Harrison is on his way to becoming the fastest man in the world — or another bloody smear on the Mojave Desert. He’s flying the X-1: basically a rocket launched from the belly of an airborne B-29 bomber, which is fuel-injected craziness, but Jim and his buddies a ...more
Liz Barnsley
Admittedly I’m struggling a little with this review because this book was as near perfect as it’s possible to be when it comes to genius storytelling, emotionally resonant use of language and the ability to get you right in the heart.

Set against the backdrop of the space race, in a bubble of time and place that the author brings utterly vividly to life, The Last Pilot is a character drama that deals with themes of love, loss and family that will speak to each different reader in it’s own way. A
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oh, this book! I was a child when the whole country held its collective breath as Alan Shepard coolly exclaimed, “Let’s light this candle” and became the first American to orbit the Earth. Dewy-eyed, I worshipped a whole new group of heroes.

The mastery of The Last Pilot is that within its pages, the heroes become human. The story centers on the fictional pilot Jim Harrison, who straddles that moment of time when we forevermore separated the old from the new and claimed the heavens as our own.

Larry H
Jul 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Picador for making it available!

In The Last Pilot , Benjamin Johncock brings a true-to-life, "you are there" feeling to the fictionalized story of Jim Harrison, a test pilot for the U.S. Air Force, who in the late 1940s and 1950s was one of the elite few attempting to break the sound barrier. It was a dangerous task, one that led to countless pilot deaths and injuries, but
This was a great idea: a test pilot, training to be one of the original NASA astronauts, struggles with personal problems after a family tragedy. This could have been an intriguing exploration of ambition, grief and loneliness while striving towards glory, but the novel wasn't strong enough to pull this off. The writing style was sparse and lifeless, which I think is the main reason I felt completely disconnected from the characters. The dialogue was pretty terrible at times and I hated the lack ...more
This book is simply wonderful - an extraordinary debut. Beautifully written, it follows the early years of the American space programme, focusing on its cost for one of its pilot astronauts and his family. Outstanding.

switterbug (Betsey)
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Then let's hit the sky and light this candle"

This debut novel by an English author packs in an integral slice of American history—the space program in the late fifties/early sixties and the Cold War. However, what makes this book utterly compelling and emotionally acute is a story of one family—(fictional) test pilot Jim Harrison, and his wife, Grace. They live in the high desert of The Mojave Desert, in Muroc, “the largest slab of uninterrupted flatness on Earth.” It’s a wide expanse of nothin
Cinematic descriptions of the California desert setting plus excellent characters and dialogue enliven this debut novel about a fictional test pilot and his family troubles during America’s Space Race. Johncock is British, but you can tell he’s taken inspiration from stories about the dawn of the astronaut age. If I allowed myself small points of criticism, I would say that it’s a challenge to accept the passage of time in the final 50 pages, and that a keen interest in astronauts is probably a ...more
Jaclyn Day
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book hit me hard in the gut. The pilot/NASA story is inventive and interesting, but the book is really about personal relationships and healing. The characters are fleshed out with incredible detail, especially Pancho–a good friend of our two married main characters. This is one of the better books I’ve read this year. I guess I’m a sucker for a rich story with beautiful writing. I wish I could write more about this, but I just finished it yesterday and it’s still a little raw. Sitting too ...more
Book Riot Community
Jim Harrison, a test pilot, gives up his dreams of going to the moon to raise a family. When tragedy strikes, Harrison and his wife are set adrift by their grief. Jim feels he must lead his family through turbulent times, both personal and national. The Last Pilot is a wonderful debut about grief and dealing with shortcomings as both parents and humans.

Get our weekly New Books! newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, featuring all books:
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-set-in-usa
Novel set in the Mojave Desert, Houston, and Cape Canaveral

I feel very lucky. The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock is the third debut novel by a British writer that I have read in recent weeks. All have been quite excellent… First was The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty, then came White Crocodile by K T Medina – and now, The Last Pilot. Two of the three (The Killing of Bobbi Lomax and The Last Pilot) are set in the States, and written with an authentic American feel. White Crocodile is set
I’m not very enthousiastic about this novel. It’s not very bad, but a rather boring story on the first generation of astronauts.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it did not like it
I feel like I read a completely different book. The book seemed really intriguing from the initial hype and as I enjoyed astronomy as a kid I thought I'd really like it. Wow, this was really...dull.
I knew right away that this was going to be a struggle for me from the prologue. Although the time-shift had me intrigued, I really can't stand it when quotation marks aren't used. Maybe it's just me, but it just seems really sloppy and a lack of effort than a stylistic choice.
Anyway. Jim is a pilot
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
The Last Pilot is an intimate tale of the space race told from the perspective of one man. A man whose wife fears for his life every day, never knowing if this will be the day he fails to return from work. There is one particularly effective scene where Grace misremembers the time Harrison says he will return. The worry is palpable.

Harrison’s progression mirrors that of Neil Armstrong’s. He starts out as a US Air Force test pilot for rocket powered planes, attempting to break the sound barrier,
Simon Juden
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This superbly crafted work, evocatively set amidst the space race, is a stunning first novel. Small steps taken, or not taken, in the context of a bleakly burdened marriage are juxtaposed with the “giant leap for mankind” and what achieving it took from the families who realised Kennedy’s vision.

This is a masterpiece of storytelling: pacy, suspenseful and with genuine emotional depth. The prose is sharp and tight; the reader is trusted, not spoon-fed. There is warmth and profundity, with themes
Jul 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a book that covered much of the same time frame as The Astronaut Wives' Club by Lily Koppel. They are both worth reading and this story has a subplot that is so appealing. The whole story put together makes for a wonderful first effort and a good read and I will continue to follow this author. I don't want to give anything away so that hopefully some of you will be interested enough to read it and rate it in here too! It's about the Mercury 7 and the New Nine too. Astronauts in the Missio ...more
Carol Magnus
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mary Lins
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complete
Wonderful novel about the early space program from the point of view of a test pilot. I'm giving it 5 stars even though it doesn't have quotation marks. PLEASE publishers and authors: quotation marks make dialog easier to read! WHAT is the deal with this trend to omit them? Are you saving on INK? Sheesh.
Sarah Harkness
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a great book - I loved all the characters, and I am by no means a Space Programme enthusiast, but I was as gripped by the personal story, which made me cry, as by the race to the moon. Great dialogue, and I could feel the heat of the desert. I also loved Pancho, what a woman!
Zohar -
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock is a historical fiction book taking place during the height of the space race.

Jim Harrison, an Air Force pilot, leaves in Nevada, pushing the boundaries of air-craft technology in the Mojave Desert. Jim’s wife, Grace are happy to have their first daughter after years of trying to have children but as the country turns its attention to the space program, the Harrisons experience a family tragedy.

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock is an interesting story which
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Deserves 3.5 stars but Goodreads doesn't have that. intriguing read which kept me guessing but ultimately lacking a little something for me.
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
When World War II comes to an end, Jim Harrison stays in the Air Force as a test pilot, pushing the sound barrier in the Mojave Desert. After struggling for years to have children, Jim and his wife Grace are thrilled by the birth of their daughter and happily embrace the changes she brings to their lives. But just as the Space Race begins and the country turns its attention to pilots like Jim, a tragedy strikes the Harrison family and drastically alters the future course.

"You know, she said, we
2.5 / 5 stars rating

This review is also posted at http://readingnookandcranny.blogspot....

Where are all the quotation marks in this novel??? It feels likes a punctuation thief slid in though the sliding glass door in the middle of the night, black ski mask and all, and robbed all the dialogue in this novel of its quotation marks while the editor slept. I don't know if this is a new fad that's developing or what, but it did not work well for this novel. For one, it made it impossible to speed rea
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Short of It:

Amid the excitement of space exploration, one couple is forced to deal with a horrible tragedy and the aftermath that it leaves behind.

The Rest of It:

The story centers around Jim Harrison and his wife Grace. Jim is an Air Force test pilot in Muroc, California on a base which later becomes Edwards Air Force Base. He’s a member of the New Nine, which is the first group to fly manned missions to space. As you can imagine, this is a very exciting time for them all.

Grace is not your t
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was sent to me by an editor that I worked with during my time at Picador, an editor I admired deeply for her work ethic and for her taste. This book confirmed my admiration of both.

Benjamin Johncock's debut novel is as informative and well-researched as it is heartrending and devastating. It is equal parts big-picture history and granular family-in-the-midst-of-turmoil. Juxtaposing the excitement and terror of the beginning of the space race with the singular, exquisite experience of b
Nick Oliver
This book started out really slow and confusing for me but then it suddenly picked up and you clearly saw the story line.

I really liked this book because he had emotion involved with a topic that seems to be emotionless. Space travel.

You really begin to like the characters (especially Pancho) and you really feel for them in all of the situations. I also like how the book really focused on life at home and not in space. I'm not a big space reader so I know that wouldn't have worked for me if it
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Any Other Mouth
  • The Faithful Couple
  • Fight Song
  • The Thrill of It All
  • Perfidious Albion
  • Strand of a Thousand Pearls: A Novel
  • The Falling Sky
  • The Storm
  • The Sound of Life and Everything
  • Pastoral
  • Fallen Land
  • Taming the Demon (Demon Blade #1)
  • Complete Short Stories
  • The Infinite Day (The Lamb among the Stars, #4)
  • Waiting For You
  • Not So Stories
  • The Death of Danny Daggers
  • Burying the Typewriter: A Memoir
See similar books…
BENJAMIN JOHNCOCK was born in England in 1978. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket. He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant and the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press's National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife, his daughter, and his son. The Last Pi ...more
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Live your life. Don't waste it lamenting what you think is required to complete it.” 0 likes
“Stored behind him, at minus two hundred and ninety-six degrees was six hundred gallons of lox, liquid nitrogen and oxygen.” 0 likes
More quotes…