At more than 700 pages, Flight of the Eagle, the latest work of history from Conrad Black, is both bloated and seriously blinkered, especially when recounting the events of recent decades. It offers few new insights or opinions, and the figures Black knows the most about – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard Nixon – have already been given a thorough biographical treatment by the author himself (not to mention countless others).
The book begins with the origins of America, trudging from the Revolutionary War through every presidential election and every international skirmish to the present day. Given the book’s focus, it makes sense that the last century is covered more thoroughly, but those early pages can be a slog at times.
Black’s evident biases make it difficult to take his scholarship seriously. Watergate collaborator G. Gordon Liddy is a “heroically motivated lawyer.” Bob Woodward is described as having a talent for “mythmaking.” Nixon’s policy on Chile was “(other than in human rights terms) a complete and important success.”
As for the current president, Black argues that Barack Obama was elected, in part, so that the “great, white, decent, centrist majority of America” could rid itself simultaneously of guilt over slavery, segregation, and hundreds of years of discrimination, and the “charlatan leaders” of the African American political community. More troublingly, Black writes this of Obama: “Though his pigmentation was African, neither his physiognomy nor his inflections and cadences were ethnically distinct. He was eloquent and a fine, athletic-looking man.”
Fans of Black’s trademark over-the-top vocabulary will find that it is not as evident here. The writing is, by Black’s standards, clear and direct, which is helpful, because there is a lot of ground to cover. The downside of this approach, however, is that it frequently makes the volume read like a textbook. And the prose often gets sloppy, with Black accusing Eisenhower of “shilly-shallying” twice in less than 30 pages.
If you maintain a previous interest in American history, much of what you will find in this book will likely be familiar. And if you are interested in key figures or moments in the strategic history of the U.S., there are countless other resources, including ones by popular historians like Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough that Black cites, to turn to.