Reviews of “In the Age of Bombers” by Bjørn Berge

Cover of "In the Age of Bombers"

“A grimly beautiful history of bombers

Bjørn Berge has written a unique book about humanity’s limitless destructive drive.

In the Age of Bombers is a shocking book about humanity’s limitless destructive drive. It follows the development of bombers from the infancy of flight to the advent of the massive monsters that have crushed countless dreams and reduced entire worlds to rubble in our own times. Although a depressing topic, it is handled with a singular irony that presents the material in a kind of absurd yet poetic theatre of cruelty.

B-52 airfield
Author Bjørn Berge is an architect by training and lives in Lista, on the western coast of Norway. His roots are in the flat region towards the North Sea, where his father was commander-in-chief of the anti-aircraft artillery at an airfield for American B-52 bombers.

Berge’s personal fascination with the huge, roaring, mighty aircraft and the stories behind their construction is filtered through the lens of a mature man’s aversion for and melancholy resignation over the destruction and suffering these aircraft have caused.
This lends the text a particular musicality, in which neither naïve enthusiasm nor moral indignation overshadow the details of the material, nor the principal conclusion: that as a tactic of warfare, bombing has almost always been a failure.

Time and again over the century-long history of air warfare, military strategists have won support for the notion that the best way to win wars was to carpet-bomb civilian targets.
The idea was that this kind of bombing would crush the morale of the enemy population, causing them to turn on their leaders and lose the will to fight.

But almost exactly the opposite has almost always happened – a feeble consolation for the victims. People naturally directed their rage at those doing the bombing.

Bombing raids
In 2016, Bjørn Berge published a thoroughly idiosyncratic book about parts of the world we don’t usually think about, at least not in any systematic way. Nowherelands was structured around a collection of stamps from countries that existed only for a short period. This peculiar editing principle enabled the author to work in copious information about history, politics, colonialism – and our general, human struggle.

This year’s book adopts an equivalent editing principle. After providing a stylish presentation of each bomber, complete with elegant diagrams, dates, numbers, crew, top speed, range and bomb load, he spices things up with plentiful information.

He writes about legendary bomb raids, about formations and dogfights, about iron plates on seats to prevent the crew from being shot to pieces from below, about narrow crawl spaces and the lack of onboard toilets.

The bomber crews worked gruelling shifts and many lost their lives: “The expected survival time for British bomber crews in 1944 was six weeks. The rear gunners came out worst of all, dying after an average of four missions – roughly calculated as one or two weeks, give or take – depending on the weather.”

The Wetsuit Mystery
The book is dedicated to “Shadi Omar Kataf, post mortem”. Right at the end of the book, we learn that this is ‘the man in the wetsuit’ – whose mysterious remains were found washed ashore at Lista in January 2015, a story that became an award-winning article in Dagbladet.

The ‘older architect’ who found him was, in fact, Bjørn Berge, and when in the last chapter he tells us Kataf’s story and how it affected him – the way all victims of war and persecution should affect us – the book takes a melancholic turn that raises it to the level of genuine poetry.[…]

The book is beautiful, grim, thought provoking and good, and undoubtedly deserves a life outside Norway too.”

Jon Rognlien, Dagbladet

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“Fantastic writing about men, bombers and history. Add to that an author with a pen of gold, and you have this year’s biggest reading treat.”

Ole Jacob Hoel, Adresseavisen

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An elegant history of warplanes from 1914 to the present day, with a chapter dedicated to each aircraft. Berge’s book doesn’t simply deliver facts about the individual bombers – it is, above all, a cracking good read. A treat both for aircraft aficionados and literary connoisseurs.

Siss Vik, NRK 1