Mavericks of the Sky: The First Daring Pilots of the US Airmail , by Barry Rosenberg and Catherine Macaulay, is an engaging and enlightening account of the earliest days of the US Airmail system.

The pilots who flew for the US Airmail system in its earliest days were some of the bravest men alive. These were men for whom the word courage was invented. Navigation was primitive at best in those days. Radio in the cockpit was unknown. The parachute hadn’t yet become standard issue. Cockpits were open to the elements. Planes were made of wood and fabric. Flying at night and in fog was often deadly. Airplanes routinely had less than thirty miles per hour separating their stall speed and maximum cruise speed. Statistically, pilots met their death in just under two years of service with the US Airmail. In short, these were men who faced every obstacle thrown at them by man and Mother Nature and who climbed back into the cockpit again and again to deliver the mail. In addition to gutsy pilots, the Airmail system had bullheaded administrators, never-say-die mechanics, and no small amount of luck on its side. Many of the innovations common to airplanes and air travel today can be traced to those introduced by the US Airmail system by these same people. In addition, many modern aircraft companies and airlines can trace a direct lineage to people involved with the US Airmail system.

Rosenberg and Macaulay present the story of the US Airmail system in a clear and very readable manner. They use narrative and a clear timeline to keep the reader interested, rather than simply presenting fact after fact and character after character. In addition, they give interesting and sometimes relevant background about pilots and others as they enter the story. Don’t skip the epilogue or you’ll miss many of the book’s more interesting revelations.