“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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Jon Rognlien, Dagbladet
* * *
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
* * *
“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
Siss Vik, NRK 1