Bomber County The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War

Daniel Swift

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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In early June 1943, James Eric Swift, a pilot with the 83rd Squadron of the Royal Air Force, boarded his Lancaster bomber for a night raid on Münster and disappeared.

Widespread aerial bombardment was to the Second World War what the trenches were to the First: a shocking and new form of warfare, wretched and unexpected, and carried out at a terrible scale of loss. Just as the trenches produced the most remarkable poetry of the First World War, so too did the bombing campaigns foster a haunting set of poems during the Second.

In researching the life of his grandfather, Daniel Swift became engrossed with the connections between air war and poetry. Ostensibly a narrative of the author's search for his lost grandfather through military and civilian archives and in interviews conducted in the Netherlands, Germany, and England, Bomber County is also an examination of the relationship between the bombing campaigns of World War II and poetry, an investigation into the experience of bombing and being bombed, and a powerful reckoning with the morals and literature of a vanished moment.


Praise for Bomber County

"Of all the books about war that I have read—all war, not just the bombing war—this is among the most moving and telling . . . A classic."—A. C. Grayling, Salon

"What begins as a personal story of loss quicky evolves into a broader consideration of the complex aesthetic, cultural and moral legacies of the air war."—Elizabeth D. Samet, The New York Times Book Review

"An exciting new kind of criticism—part literary readings, part history and part personal memoir . . . [Bomber County] is an astonishing debut."—Dave Herman, New Statesman

"[Swift's] style is lucid, direct, calmly rational . . . Like Sebald . . . Swift has found an ingeniously oblique way to throw fresh light on history."—Jerome Boyd Maunsell, The Times Literary Supplement

"Strikingly original and beautifully written, Bomber County is an elegiac contemplation of memory, loss, poetry, and moral choice."—Antony Beevor, author of Berlin: The Downfall 1945

"Daniel Swift's memorial to the grandfather he never knew is a rare and subtle blend of military history, literary insight, and narrative skill. Bomber County is a remarkable book."—A. Alverez, author of The Savage God: A Study of Suicide

"An inspired and inspiring debut. Sharply observed. meticulously researched. Bomber County captures a world—and its poetry—that we have all but lost."—James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

"An original, deeply informed, and poignant meditation on the relationship between destruction and art, national defense and their individual soldier, the hard calculus of technological warfare and the poetic need for some form of human reckoning. Daniel Swift's Bomber County is an exceptional debut—it reads, in fact, like the work of an already accomplished writer, which it clearly is."—John Burn ham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Bomber County

Chapter 1. Five Minutes after the Air Raid
12 June 1943

After the air raid, Virginia Woolf went for a walk. 'The greatest pleasure of town life in winter - rambling the streets of London,' she...

Read the full excerpt