Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines by Jack El-Hai (review)
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Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines. By Jack El-Hai. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 291 pages. Hardcover, $39.95.

Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines tells the story of this airline company from its beginning as a mail carrier in 1926 to its merger with Delta Air Lines, Inc. in 2008/2010. The author, Jack El-Hai, has written a number of books and articles on the history of medicine and science and other topics. He begins the book with a question: "How could a podunk mail carrier without a single airplane to call its own grow into the envy of the airline industry, and then decline into the company that aggrieved passengers and employees loved to call 'Northworst'?" (vii). In nine chapters, beginning with the early days of aviation and ending with a chapter titled "Broke and Vanishing Fast," El-Hai answers this question. He calls the book a company biography, bringing together stories of the company and the people who were part of Northwest Airlines

Northwest Airlines grew from a small mail carrier to a major airline with the early addition of east-west passenger routes in the United States and, shortly after World War II, with its move into locations in Asia. The addition of the international routes, beginning with Japan, led the airline to begin advertising itself as Northwest Orient. It grew further through a merger with Republic Airlines, eventually also allying with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and forming Wings Alliance. At the same time, faced with rising costs and debt related to expansion, the airline averted bankruptcy through a series of wage cuts which employees approved at the last minute. It continued to operate until declaring bankruptcy in 2005. During bankruptcy proceedings, members of the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association struck to prevent job loss and wage reduction, but were largely unsuccessful. The company merged with Delta Airlines in 2008/2010, forming the largest airline company in the world at the time. [End Page 439]

Drawing on the resources of the Minnesota Historical Society, Northwest Airlines (NWA) History Centre, and the work of journalists who covered the airlines, El-Hai tells the story of this company. The book's chapters describe the growth and decline of the airline. Multipage inserts in each chapter focus on specific topics such as biographies of Northwest Airline's presidents and CEOs, company clothing designs, airplane food, the distinctive red tails on the company's planes, labor relations, airplane crashes and loss of life, and the roles of airline employees, including mechanics and cabin attendants. Overall, the book provides a comprehensive look at the history of Northwest Airlines, Inc.

The book is large format, 12" × 12" in size. It is illustrated with photographs from a variety of collections, many of which have not been published before. The book ends with a detailed timeline of Northwest Airlines history.

Even though the book includes stories about people, its use of oral histories is unclear. The sources for the book, according to the Acknowledgements and Sources statement, are previously published books about the history of the company, Northwest Airlines corporate records, and articles by various journalists. The book has no footnotes. Even though Minnesota Historical Society collections contain at least two oral histories recorded with Northwest Airlines personnel as part of the Greatest Generation Project—an oral history project documenting the lives of people during the Great Depression, World War II, and postwar years—neither interview is cited or acknowledged in the Sources statement. The extensive, three-part oral history interview with Donald W. Nyrop, president of Northwest Airlines from 1954-1979 and a member of the Northwest Airlines board until 1984, contains much detailed information about his leadership of the company through the crucial mid-century years. The oral history interview with Norman Midthun, a World War II pilot who flew for Northwest Airlines as a postwar career, describes this common employment pattern in the company. The book includes stories of Northwest Airlines and many people who were part of the company, but does not acknowledge these, or any other, oral histories as sources of the stories.

Barbara W. Sommer
Independent Scholar...