The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

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by Brendan I. Koerner, Rob Shapiro
     
 

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In an America torn apart by the Vietnam War and the demise of '60s idealism, airplane hijackings were astonishingly routine. Over a five-year period starting in 1968, the desperate and disillusioned seized commercial jets nearly once a week, using guns, bombs, and jars of acid. Some hijackers wished to escape to foreign lands; others aimed to swap hostages for

Overview

In an America torn apart by the Vietnam War and the demise of '60s idealism, airplane hijackings were astonishingly routine. Over a five-year period starting in 1968, the desperate and disillusioned seized commercial jets nearly once a week, using guns, bombs, and jars of acid. Some hijackers wished to escape to foreign lands; others aimed to swap hostages for sacks of cash. Their criminal exploits mesmerized the country, never more so than when shattered Army veteran Roger Holder and mischievous party girl Cathy Kerkow managred to comandeer Western Airlines Flight 701 and flee across an ocean with a half-million dollars in ransom—a heist that remains the longest-distance hijacking in American history.

More than just an enthralling story about a spectacular crime and its bittersweet, decades-long aftermath, The Skies Belong to Us is also a psychological portrait of America at its most turbulent and a testament to the madness that can grip a nation when politics fail.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
Mr. Koerner's book…[is] such pure pop storytelling that reading it is like hearing the best song of summer squirt out of the radio. Both the author and his subjects are so audacious that they frequently made me laugh out loud…[Koerner] finds the ideal tone…for the fleet true-crime story he is telling, and he introduces us to a supporting cast that's rarely less interesting than the skyjackers themselves: brave flight attendants and pilots, F.B.I. agents, African despots. And he locates the deep reserves of personal sadness lingering beneath the entire melodrama.
The Washington Post - Daniel Stashower
Brendan Koerner…skillfully re-creates this tumultuous era…[he] has done an impressive job of research that includes interviews with many of the central players in the drama…The Skies Belong to Us is a gripping portrait of a chaotic time.
Publishers Weekly
Although Koerner (Now the Hell Will Start), a contributing editor at Wired, had access to only one of the two hijackers whose 1972 commandeering of a U.S. airliner he recounts here in thrilling detail, he makes the mistake of sharing the other’s thoughts, a dramatization that blurs the line between nonfiction and fiction. The book opens with a gripping scene: a stewardess aboard Western Airlines Flight 701, en route from Los Angeles to Seattle, is approached by a passenger she had spilled something on earlier. But rather than complain about his stained clothing, Roger Holder, a Vietnam veteran protesting the war, hands her a note claiming that four men with bombs and guns are aboard. The narrative then shifts back in time to provide a fascinating look at the history of skyjacking—from 1968-1973, a plane was hijacked almost every week—and efforts to thwart it, replete with offbeat details like the suggestion that all passengers be forced to don boxing gloves upon entering aircraft to preclude them from being able to hold or fire guns. The odyssey of Holder’s life before and after his act of terror, aided by his lover, Cathy Kerkow, makes for compelling reading, though carelessness about speculation is a minus. 8 b&w photos. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, the Pagnamenta Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
"Gripping. . . . A fascinating look at the history of skyjacking. The odyssey of Holder's life before and after his act of terror, aided by his lover, Cathy Kerkow, makes for a compelling [listen]." —Publishers Weekly
The New York Times Book Review - Benjamin Wallace-Wells
This material, naturally a great yarn, is handled exceedingly well by the journalist Brendan I. Koerner, whose main interest, beyond the simple delight of the story, is in excavating the skyjacking epidemic from history — an extended moment, from 1968 to 1972, when dozens of planes in the United States were taken over by hijackers, most of them professing political aims.
Library Journal
Though it's hard to imagine now, less than 50 years ago airlines never screened their passengers. Even after the first American hijacking—in 1961, Antulio Ramirez Ortiz famously hijacked an airplane to Cuba—commercial airlines resisted the expense and inconvenience of formal screening. As a result, skyjackings were so common in the 1960s and 1970s that they became an almost routine part of flying. Journalist Koerner (contributing editor, Wired; Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II) follows the strange and romantic exploits of Willie Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, lovers and radicals who became international celebrities when they hijacked Western Airlines Flight 701 in June 1972, demanding a ransom and the release of Angela Davis. Their escape to Algiers and their subsequent adoption by French radicals contributed to the cachet of hijacking. VERDICT This book illuminates the outlaw glamour of this period of aviation, when ordinary men and women could command the skies, if only for a moment. For fans of aviation history and political history as well as true crime.—Deirdre Bray, Middletown P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews
A chronicle of the 1972 skyjacking of Western Airlines Flight 701. Wired contributing editor Koerner (Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II, 2008) explores the story of the longest-distance skyjacking in American history. Motivated by anger toward America (as well as his newfound interest in astrological omens), embittered Vietnam War veteran Roger Holder, along with his girlfriend, Cathy Kerkow, skyjacked a flight en route from Los Angeles to Seattle. An alleged briefcase bomb forced the airline to make good on Holder's demands, which included money and safe passage to Algeria. In addition, he demanded the freedom of Angela Davis, a communist-sympathizing philosophy professor at UCLA who had lost her position due to her political beliefs and was arrested soon after for her connection to a shootout. A delusional Holder believed it his duty to rescue her, adding a new twist to the skyjackers' usual requests for money and a rerouted flight. "Then he would fly the Communist philosophy professor to North Vietnam," Koerner writes, "where the nation's grateful prime minister would grant her political asylum." Yet Holder's carefully hatched plan soon required various split-second decisions, and while Holder and Kerkow eventually touched down in Algeria (without Davis in tow), they hardly achieved the celebrity status they'd imagined. While Koerner focuses on this unlikely plot carried out by an unlikely duo, he expands beyond this single instance to draw attention to the skyjacking epidemic that plagued commercial airlines throughout the early years of flight travel. Between 1961 and 1972, 159 U.S. flights were skyjacked. By making mention of so many skyjackings, Koerner paints a complex portrait of a war-torn and racially charged country, one whose dissenters often took to the skies for revenge. A riveting, highly readable tale of terror in the skies.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452613208
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
06/18/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.49(w) x 5.56(h) x 1.11(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The Skies Belong to Us is one of the most exciting, fascinating, best books I've read this year.  It recreates a time when American skyjackings were so common – and casual – that they occurred every week, and brings you into the thrilling heart of one of the most audacious hijackings in history.  I couldn't stop reading, and what's most amazing is that it's all true.”
Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling The Power of Habit

“Brendan I. Koerner has turned an odd, nearly forgotten aerial-hijacking episode into an astonishing, hilarious, and un-put-downable true-crime narrative. I had no idea that any story could connect the Eldridge Cleaver of the Sixties with the TSA miseries of today's air travel, but The Skies Belong to Us does that and much more. This is a marvelously entertaining, instructive, and humane book.”
James Fallows, author of China Airborne
 
“Besides being a can't-put-it-down page-turner and an evocative recollection of a forgotten slice of history, The Skies Belong To Us feels uncannily relevant today in its depiction of how political forces can impede rational solutions to criminal violence.” – Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar

Meet the Author

BRENDAN I. KOERNER is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of Now the Hell Will Start, which was optioned by filmmaker Spike Lee. A former columnist for both The New York Times and Slate, he was named one of Columbia Journalism Review’s “Ten Young Writers on the Rise." Visit www.theskiesbelongto.us and follow him at @brendankoerner.

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The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book ended up being much more interesting than I originally thought it would be. The story is about a specific couple and their lives leading up to and after they complete a hijacking. Their story is not what kept my attention, it was the the overview of the hijacking era that I found to be fascinating. I had no idea how prevalent hijackings were during this time period and enjoyed reading a little snapshot into some specific stories throughout the time period. It was also interesting to see how airport security practices progressed only after a significant amount of time and hijackings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a book I couldn't put down.  A suspenseful combination of facts about the history of skyjacking and  fictional insights into an odd interracial couple (Holder / Kerlow) who skyjacked  to "free Angela Davis"  (who didn't want anything to do with them).  Leading up to, but not including 911, this exciting rendering of the madness of skyjacking would be extremely funny (no skyjacker ever walked away with a ransom) if it wasn't so  frighteningly insane.
SunshineFS More than 1 year ago
It was a good story but a lot about other hijacking
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this a great read about an intricate piece of history. Well written and pertanent to our world today. Thank you to the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Usually with books like this (this kind of topic anyway) the author, often times, can't see the forest for the trees. Authors know their stories so well that they innundate the readers with extra trivia and minute details and these bog the reader down and make for boring reads. That's not the case here. Mr Koerner does a fantastic job of weaving together loads of facts and trivia about many different highjackings and all the while keeping the reader wanting to know what happens with two specific people. The story was interesting and told very, very well. I look forward to what more stories this guy has to tell.