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81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska's Frozen Wilderness
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81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska's Frozen Wilderness

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,238 ratings  ·  153 reviews
"A riveting...saga of survival against formidable odds" (Washington Post) about one man who survived a World War II plane crash in Alaska's harsh Yukon territory
Shortly before Christmas in 1943, five Army aviators left Alaska's Ladd Field on a routine flight to test their hastily retrofitted B-24 Liberator in harsh winter conditions. The mission ended in a crash that claim
Hardcover, 238 pages
Published June 2nd 2015 by Da Capo Press
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Evelyn Robinson well written, learned so many facts about Alaska and WWII ... research was awesome ... this was a remarkable true story
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3.68  · 
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 ·  1,238 ratings  ·  153 reviews

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Jul 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bookclub, nonfiction
1.5 stars - I didn't like it.

This survival story would make for an interesting magazine article, but there were simply not enough events or information to force a novel out of the story. Instead, the author cobbled together numerous tangents which make up the majority of the material, and created this very fractured and disjointed book. Unfortunately, the result is that it feels long and drug out despite its very short length.

The reader does not even feel like they really get to know Leon Crane
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was just right... enough detail, without getting bogged down. It had a number of tangents to "pad" the story, but I found those tangents quite interesting, as I learned a lot about the battles in the Aleutian Islands against the Japanese during WWII and about the culture of rural Alaska at the time. The characters were interesting and well-drawn, and the survival story kept me engaged. You do sense how vulnerable Crane was, as a pilot from Philadelphia with all-too-little survival trai ...more
Brandon Leichty
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-books
"81 Days Below Zero" felt like watching a Netflix or Hulu TV show without the paid subscription. It was like the free plan--the one with all the commercials. All you want to do is get through the commercials so you can finish your show.

I really wanted to go give this book a higher rating. But when three fourths of the book aren't even about the main survival story, it doesn't make it easy to recommend this read. A great story that's filled with too much filler.
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book! It was an interesting tale from a unique experience. The background info and relevant historical data were also fascinating. I am by no means an airplane or war buff, so I would have been bored had the book gone into too much detail. But it didn't - it was just enough to teach me what I needed to know to understand the crash and war as it related to Alaska. I especially enjoyed learning about survival skills and the Alaskan winters (which I have experienced and are no ...more
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Shortly before Christmas in 1943, five Army aviators left Alaska’s Ladd Field on a routine flight to test their hastily retrofitted B-24 Liberator in harsh winter conditions. The mission ended in a crash that claimed all but one—Leon Crane, a city kid from Philadelphia with no wilderness experience. With little more than a parachute for cover and an old Boy Scout knife in his pocket, Crane now found himself alone in subzero temperatures. Crane knew, as did the Ladd Field crews who searched unsuc ...more
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It's beyond me how anyone can fail to be taken into this story of Leon Crane's survival, alone in Alaska, given up for dead. I guess it's because we all read from our unique perspective. Because of quirks, luck, and Crane's ingenuity, creativity and fortitude, he survives 81 days in sub-zero temperature, and makes his way back to civilization. I'm so glad that Brian Murphy did the research and told this story, especially when Crane never wanted to talk about it. All this happened during WWII, bu ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to Gail by: Other reviewers
Shelves: not-worthwhile
This is the first time that I skipped entire sections of a book. Normally, if I don't like what I am reading, I'll just stop. But, I was interested in the main subject and wanted to know what happened to him, how he was able to survive. There was way too much extraneous, irrelevant information that was not needed and most of it was boring. If all of the worthless stuff was removed, it would have been a very slim book. It should have been just a magazine article on the WWII pilot who survived the ...more
Dec 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I still can't decide if I liked the fact that the author took so many breaks from the main story to tell a whole bunch of other people's stories. It did add a nice dimension to the story in terms of seeing how Crane's story fit into other things going on during the war and within the history of the Yukon/Alaska, but at the same time I sometimes felt impatient to find out what was going to happen to Crane. All that said, I definitely was hooked and excited to see how the story turned out (but the ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
The survival story was interesting but the rest felt like filler. I agree with another reviewer on here that said it would have been better off as a magazine article.
I really enjoyed this nonfiction account of Leon Crane, of the US Army Air Force, whose plane went down in the Alaskan wilderness. It's a story of perseverance, survival and luck. I learned a lot about the WWII effort in Alaska (I had no idea!) and the history of the gold rush and how Alaska was built up. While I read it for my school's biography unit, so I could recommend it to students, it's not written necessarily for middle schoolers.
Cindy Gilbert
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. It provided enough detail to give you a sense of what the ordeal was like without bogging down the story. I learned something about Alaska ' s role in WWII and also about life for those brave enough to live there.
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Started out really slow. Pretty good now.

I did end up enjoying the book. I felt like the author got distracted and moved into other topics too frequently. He really lost his way at the end of the book when he sort of started another book.

Before I reread this one, I would read Mitchell Zuckoff's, Frozen in Ice, again or the one about Ted Shackleford's Antarctic adventure, which name I cannot now remember.

Leon Crane survived 81 days in Alaska after a plane crash in WWII. Temperatures were up to
Oct 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The part of the story where B-24 copilot bails out his out of control plane and then survives 81 days in the Alaskan winter is fascinating. There was not enough material to fill the book so there is a lot of back story, some more interesting than others. I rushed through those parts to get to the main story. If you like survival stories, you should enjoy this one. You can skip the other chapters and not miss much.
Anna Ciddor
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Listened on audio. A gripping story of one man's survival from a B24 crash in Alaska during WW2. Added interest because my father in law was navigator in a B24 during the war. Reminded me of Hatchet by G Paulsen, another favourite book, but this one is true.
Sonia Hubly
May 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was very well written. I enjoyed it so much that I literally could not put it down for the first 100 pages. I wish the ending would have had even more details but I understand how it ended. It was very moving.
Apr 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, well-researched and presented in a readable way. Even includes a large number of photos. The author is a journalist, rather than a novelist, and it shows in this historical book. I really enjoyed it.
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adventure
A true story about surviving against great odds in Alaska. The author goes off on numerous tangents but they are all relevant to the main character's challenges and add context.
Len Roberto
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
survival...gripping story
Wendy Rader
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good read, interesting exploration of Alaska recent history and WW2.
Janet Norman
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Learned a lot about WWII and how Alaska was involved. Easy read. The best part was the survival skills used by the pilot to survive.
Jordan Burns
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book started out great, it started at where it took place in World War 2 and how it happened and when it happened. The book has a lot of information about World War 2 and what it really was like during World War 2 and what the character saw in it to. This book gives a lot of detail of how the main character survives the harsh-cold winter of Alaska. The only thing that is wrong in the book is that it jumps to different times in the book like one minute the character is talking about the past ...more
Brett Van Gaasbeek
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I had a student ask about titles of books similar in nature to "In the Heart of the Sea" and "In the Kingdom of Ice and Snow" because he was intrigued by the man v. nature aspect of survival stories. While walking through the library I spied this book. While is was not as good as the previously named books, I feel that some of the reviewers were not fair to this book. First of all, many reviewers were upset at the jumbled nature of the book, as Murphy skips between people and subject matter quit ...more
Brandon Thompson
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
I commend Brian Murphy for all of his hard work and research that went into writing this book. That, and he is a good writer. However, due to there just not being enough source material to justify an entire 200+ page book, "81 Days..." fell short for me. Another reviewer wrote that this story would be better suited as an article. I definitely agree. I enjoy the occasional survival story, yet those very passages only made up about 50% of the book. A compelling chapter about our hero in the elemen ...more
What an interesting book! It isn't my usual "genre" but I like to stretch myself now and then. This is the true story of a young guy from Philadelphia named Leon Crane who was stationed in Alaska where, in WWII, they were testing planes for their performance in severe weather. Crane was the copilot on a test run that crashed in the Alaskan wilderness just before Christmas in 1943. The other three men on the plane died, and their radio contact had been too inconsistent for the base to know where ...more
Karen Prive
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
While the story is about Crane's survival alone in the Alaskan wilderness - in the winter no less - the writers frequently wander off into lengthy discourse about the fate of the others on the plane, particularly the other pilot. Whole chapters were devoted to the impact on the families of the other soldiers; the exploration of the crash site decades later; and the recovery, identification of remains, and internment of one of his comrades. It was as though the authors originally were focused on ...more
Brian Walter
Oct 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Exposition is the spice a writer uses to mark the stew's flavor pop, yet when you add too much garlic, even the best meat can become a bad meal. Im all for learning back story, but the author often lost me in completely unneeded history of every character who even slightly crossed paths with the story. If the core story wasn't so compelling I probably would have given up around the paragraphs explaining the importance of ravens to a culture that wasn't even part of the book. The author does admi ...more
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
The story is very interesting but the author structured the book in a disjointed confusing way. He could have told a compelling story of the events in 1943/44 and then crafted just as interesting of a story of the search in later years for the crash site. Maybe weaving in more of Hoskins’ family’s desire to know what happened to him. At one point I thought my digital ap had glitches and skipped a bunch of pages because suddenly the author switched to 2004 and inserted photos. The structure disru ...more
Jessica Dudenhofer Beery
This book was not what I hoped...there really wasn't that much of a story of the co-pilot's 81 days in the Alaskan wilderness...mostly because he never really shared his story. I could tell the former-reporter author did their best to make a book from his story, but it felt more like a series of historical rabbit trails...with a few snippets of what MIGHT have happened to the soldier during his time in the wild.
It was still a great source of interesting WWII history, but not as interesting or ex
Phil Anslow
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
A brave and honourable survival story amid the Alaskan ice and snow. Unfortunately, the author finds every opportunity to go off on a tangent suffocating the main narrative in an avalanche of said tangents. I also understand the need to occasionally deviate from telling a story in chronological order so as to generate a smidgen of suspense, but this account is all over the place. Shame.
Amber Dawn
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story was great. However, I was distracted by all the bouncing around in the timeline. I came in thinking this was a story about Crane, but it’s really about the crew of the Iceberg Inez. If I had started from that vantage, I’d probably have enjoyed it more.

Excellent for WWII history fans and people who liked “Hatchet.”
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Brian Murphy is a journalist at the Washington Post. He joined the paper after more than twenty years as an award-winning foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. He has two previous books and currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife Toula Vlahou.
“War is always a negative-sum outcome. It subtracts, removes, empties. No one who has witnessed combat can, with any honesty, describe it another way. “We know more about war than we know about peace,” said five-star general Omar Bradley in an Armistice Day address a few years after the end of World War II, “more about killing than we know about living.” Think of it like this. For every soldier’s grave in places such as Arlington or Anzio or Normandy, there are more forgotten burial sites for civilians—parents, children, newlyweds, and newborns—claimed in some way by the same fighting.” 1 likes
“I’m, if possible, more convinced than ever that this is the most beautiful part of the world, but it’s an almost metallic, two-dimensional beauty with no warmth or gentleness to trick or woo you into liking it. Its great bleak loveliness is just there, hard and sharp, forever and ever.” 1 likes
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