It’s late on a Sunday afternoon and the pickings at the library are slim: now is the time to grab a book just to have one more to read, and let’s not worry too much about what it is. So that day I picked Highest Duty, the memoir by the pilot of USair 1549 that landed into the Hudson River in January 2009. Cheesiness risk: very high.
And… I loved the book! Sure, it’s not the literary masterpiece of the century, even of the month, but the ghost writer (Jeffrey Zaslow, identified right on the cover) did a wonderful job of spinning the story of the fateful five minutes of that flight into 300 enjoyable pages that are intertwined with the life story of a regular guy who takes great pains to explain that he just did his job that day. What a contrast with Bill O’Reilly, the memoir of each I reviewed yesterday! Mr. Sullenberger is always gracious, thankful for his mentors from the very first chapter, and remarkably transparent about his strengths and weaknesses as a pilot, a husband, and a father. He speaks candidly but never bitterly about the radical changes in the airline industry that result in silly practices like not feeding the pilots during flights (whoever thought that up?) or paying them only once they have pushed from the date (I now understand why waiting on the tarmac is so common!)
It would be good to think that every pilot is as dedicated as the author to safety. He was lucky that day, but also supremely well-prepared. If you like the story, I recommend listening to the conversation with the air traffic controller: it’s a great performance both of the pilot and the controller.