Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Big Show: The Greatest Pilot's Story of World War II” as Want to Read:
The Big Show: The Greatest Pilot's Story of World War II
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Big Show: The Greatest Pilot's Story of World War II

4.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,400 ratings  ·  100 reviews
This is absolutely the best fighter pilot memoir of World War II. Pierre Closterman was a Free French fighter ace and his account of the air war over Britain and France has justly become famous. It contains everything one could wish for: wonderfully observed descriptions of wartime Britain, frighteningly evocative stories of in-the-cockpit action, an amazing cast of ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Cassell (first published 1948)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,400 ratings  ·  100 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Big Show: The Greatest Pilot's Story of World War II
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like most boys my age growing up in the 1970s, I was fascinated by both aeroplanes and war, and thus spent many not-so-profitable hours building and painting Airfix kits, one of which depicted a Hawker Tempest. This particular kit had decals depicting "Le Grand Charles", the personal plane of Pierre Clostermann. My father, when he saw the completed kit, steered me to his copy of The Big Show, which I read again and again during my adolescence.

Well I'm grown up now, and interestingly so has this
Pierre Clostermann's story of flying over 300 combat missions while serving as a Free French Sergeant-Pilot with the RAF.

The episode when Clostermann helped remove a fellow pilot from the cockpit of a Hawker Tempest fighter that had crashed and cartwheeled in a flaming wreck while attempting a "wheels-up" belly-landing, and then holding what was left of his burned & mangled friend as he died in his arms was gut-wrenching. And then the next day Clostermann himself, bravely risked a
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Here is a combat memoir that rings with the thrills and perils of "grappling in the central blue", to quote Tennyson. Clostermann, a Frenchman of Brazilian birth, made his way to Britain where he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was trained as a fighter pilot and assigned to one of the Free French fighter squadrons, flying Spitfires in combat.

By war's end, Clostermann was a flight lieutenant flying the Hawker Tempest, one of the fastest and most rugged piston-engined fighters in the RAF. He
Simon Brading
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best of the accounts I've read of WW2 in the air written by a pilot. This ranks alongside Wellum's First Light in my opinion.
Don't be put off by the fact that the writer is French or that his story begins well after the Battle of Britain.
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Possibly the best book I've read about the air war in WW2, up there with the best like "First Light"
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought I knew about the events of WWII. And indeed I do, at least as far as the broad sweep is concerned, and the details of the Battle of Britain and the bombing campaign. But, reading this, I realised that I had assumed that after D-Day, the life of a fighter pilot on the front line was pretty relaxed. How wrong can you be.

Clostermann survived, somehow, over 400 sorties, most of them after this date. He spent much of his time attacking German fighter bases, flying through massive flak
Charles m smith jr
Frenchman flying with the R.A.F. What a story.

I like the option from the other's who were there. It's so great to here from another point of view. Little is told from the other flier who in the fight over Europe. Mr. Clostermann gets you from the start . What he and his fellow pilots went through we hear very little of.
Thanks from history lesson. Thanks to you for writing it down. Like all us who serve then and we thank you.
Feb 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Clostermann's account of a suicidal mission his squadron of Tempests was sent on in the closing months of the war in Europe exceeds the speeder attack on the snow walkers in the beginning of Empire Strikes Back in terms of sheer visual awesomeness. His squadron bursts from dense cloud cover to find itself over an airfield packed with German transports (including Arado 232s) about to carry personnel to Norway to escape the Allied advance, seaplanes trying to take off, and tons of 20mm and 37mm ...more
Rupert Matthews
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Exciting, amusing and terrifying by turns. This is a great personal memoir. Written at the time, he makes a number of mistakes due to censorship denying him the knowledge of what was really going on, but this makes it all the more interesting. The most interesting bit is towards the end when he goes back to France and is effectively cold-shouldered. He was an embarrassment. While he had been risking his life and seeing his friends killed, they had been sitting on their backsides knuckling under ...more
Vojtěch Ernst Kilian
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii
Great memoirs of one of handful Frenchmen who did not give up... :)
Jose M
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
War as it was : The real story and the real History.

Very young French (19 years ) fighter pilot in the European Theatre, flying initially with the French Forces and subsequently with the RAF. 33 confirmed kills along with innumerable trains and war materiel destroyed. Fascinating account written in 1947 on the basis of daily dairies kept by the author during the war, who by the end of the hostilities , age 25, was in charge of a British fighter group comprising 120 planes and more than 900
Robert Santini
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A compelling account of combat flying

This autobiographical account of one man's experience as a fighter pilot in the RAF during WW II is written with great sensitivity for the effect of continuous warfare on the human personality. There is a fine balance between technical details, adventure and the unending fear in the mind warrior who has learned to survive and lead. The account follows the author's experience from pilot-trainee to a wing commander. He is very frank about how one must try to
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is still hand's down one of the best ww2 novels. I read it multiple times when younger, but this it the first time I got my hands on the English version.

The best things to say are plenty but:
1.) The author goes to great lengths to portrait all the aspects of war without much censorship or idealisation. As such you get the glimpse of ups as well as downs - how sad it is to lose a comrade-in-arms during a flight or a failed landing and also how you learn to respect your opponent.

2.) The book
Ian R Schneider
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bravery, dedication, deep friendship, horror, wasted lives, incompetent leadership, a necessary war, a world that soon forgot.

A book that should be read by all as a reminder that leaders, dictators, politicians, are the most evil, sending the young to their unnecessary deaths casually to solve problems they have created. Rally around the flags boys, I need to win an election. God bless us all. The long, the short and the tall. Charge the blockhouse! Into the cannons rode the 500! My election is
i.s. wallace
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really big and horrible show.

This is a story of real heroism. All of the pilots that flew in the second world war for the allies were all heroes. I think that Pierre Clostermann must have had someone looking after him to fly 432 sorties and to survive especially when seeing so many of his friends and colleagues killed in this awful war. Long may they be remembered. It is only a shame that after the war questions are always asked regarding the pilots record of kills by people who were never
Don Hodges
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning Account of RAF After Battle of Britain

A Free French pilot attached to the RAF gives an absolutely hair raising account of the fighter war across Europe. Contrary to Allied press reports, the Luftwaffe was potent and continued to be supplied and modernized until the very end in May 1945. Clostermann's account is from notes and logs he posted throughout the air campaigns. He volunteered to rejoin the RAF after being posted to Paris after the liberation. Moving from Spitfires to the more
David Boyd
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intense concise emotional memoirs of a WW2 ace

Previous reviewers have claimed this is the best memoir of a fighter pilot in WW2. Having just finished reading this memoir I completely agree. It’s moving, descriptive, emotional. You will be a better person for reading this book. The author describes the thrills, the tragedy, and the heartbreak of these years. He clearly explains the pride in the skill required to fly the aircraft, the bravado required to face other worthy pilots in combat, the joy
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rare source of wartime flying experience - A French pilot, flying Spitfire, Typhoons and Tempests in the RAF.

Rising from a Flying Sergeant to Wing Commander by war's end. Virtually ignored by his own nation's reconstituted Air Force, his skills and command potential were rewarded with increasing responsibility by RAF brass. Unable to officially promote him with rank beyond that needed for acting commands, at last when War in Europe ended he hears from Paris at last: offered a "Reserve
Richard Burke
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a memoir and tells the story of a french flying officer who escaped Vichy France and joined the RAF at the beginning of the Battle of Britain. He says upfront that he wrote the book from the journal he kept during the war and that he wanted to honor the other guys who flew with him in the war. He survived the war and tells a stark, well-written story of where he went, the pilots and crew he knew, the details of the planes he flew and others he fought, with realistic descriptions of ...more
Stevens Parr
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fighter Pilot Straight and True

A moving account of what it was like to be a fighter pilot in WW2. The bitter cold at altitude, dodging accurate and deadly flak when not coping with enemy.aircraft. Endless missions day after day - there is no romance or chivalry here, only the continual loss of life until at the very end the author is the only one left alive, flying home to France already forgotten despite his heroism and that of his fallen comrades. It is a portrait of air combat, real and
D. E.
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A PC. Autobiography of a French Pilot with the RAF (TBS) (TCAOWAC)

PC. has penned his autobiography of his time flying in the RAF during World War II. The story begins with him arriving at his squadron and seeing the Spitfires assigned to his squadron, the French Air Force. They test flight their new aircraft and after satisfactorily completing aircraft orientation were committed to combat. The rest of the autobiography is his commitment to flying and destroying German aircraft. A French Ace with
Mike Eberhard
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Big Show

A wonderful and honest book about a group of French fighter pilots who joined the RAF to fight the Germans in WWII. It covers day to day events, raid after raid, death after death of these pilots. After a few pages you felt like you were with them, comrades in arms dulled by the harsh requirements of the job performed in the edge of a great abyss. Life seemed cheap; the odds of surviving were small
Kenneth Schultz
Gives an excellent feeling for what a airman (in this case French) went through in WWII while serving as a fighter pilot with the RAF. I down rated it because while it claims to be from a journal written at the time, it clearly isn't. It has numerous verifiable inaccuracies. People who couldn't have been where he claims and airplanes flying when and where they didn't fly. If you can simply read it for the adventure and horror the author experienced, it's a great book.
T.S. Williams
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book by an accomplished man

This was by far the best WW2 account of being a pilot that I have read.

The author is a brave man, constantly overcoming deserved fear of his situation, great odds and death as his constant companion.

A great read in a world struggling for adult leaders.
Mr D.A. Kee
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent account of the air war in WW2 without the jingoism of many others. Excellent read for students of the period as well as lovers of war planes.

Very good book. Hard to put down. Appreciate the details of the authors mental and physical deterioration over the period as the pressure took its toll.
Jon Nelson
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for WW2 history, it opened my eyes in shock

Mr Clostermann writes in shocking details that many do not want to know. He explains his fears, his doubts in the Command structure, his personal thoughts, and the shocking loss of aircrews that no one has written about that I could find. I do wish he would have included how many flights he did.
creig speed
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best book about the air war I've ever read

This book taught about things I didn't know. I had no idea the luftwaffe held on til the end which that many planes and continuity as a force. I felt as if I was in the plane with him?
As he describes his flights in detail he was incredibly lucky. I am very happy i found this
Book . I recommend it to any one
Mark Moxley-Knapp
Excellent memoir by a famous French ace. Details his entire service in the RAF during WW2, flying Spitfires and Tempests. Soaring poetic writing in some places, great descriptions of both battles and life on the ground, interesting people, doesn't shy from the grisly details or the fears and doubts. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
Charles Fiscus
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome account

An awesome account of a great aerial warrior. Closterman describes dozens of his sorties in some detail, including the gamut of emotions he experienced. It’s not all glory, and it’s also not just the horrors of war, though there is plenty of both here, and everything in between.
Michael W. Guthrie
Best detail of Second World War fighter action I have ever read. And it shows how strong the Germans remained right up to the end of the war. He described many encounters with Me 262 and other jets that that saw much more action than I had realized. Hundreds of them. And so many fellow pilots lost...
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Atlantic Nightmare: The longest military campaign in World War II
  • Torpedo 8: The Story of Swede Larsen’s Bomber Squadron
  • Mission Beyond Darkness
  • Fighter Pilot
  • Zoomies, Subs, and Zeros (Annotated)
  • B-29 Superfortress (Annotated): The Plane that Won the War
  • Joe Foss Flying Marine: The Story of his Flying Circus
  • Bomber!: Famous Bomber Missions of World War II
  • Tark's Ticks: A WWII Novel
  • Stand by for Action: The Memoirs of a Small Ship Commander in World War II
  • Beaufighter Blitz: A Novel of the RAF (A Harry Rose Novel Book 2)
  • Battle for the Solomons (Illustrated)
  • The Good Shepherd
  • Scramble: A Narrative History of the Battle of Britain
  • Typhoon Pilot
  • The Coastwatchers (Illustrated): Operation Ferdinand and the Fight for the South Pacific
  • The Mercenaries (Flying Ace Thrillers Book 2)
  • A Cargo Pilot's Life- Tails from Corrosion Corner
See similar books…