While most readers are drawn to read Yeager because of a single incident in his life—the breaking of the sound barrier—the greatest strength of the biography is the exciting and unique military career of Chuck Yeager, which began during World War II and continued through the Vietnam War.

Unlike many of the pilots of World War II, Yeager had never even seen a plane “close up” until he was fifteen, when one “bellied into a cornfield on the Mud River” near his home in Hamlin, West Virginia. He joined the Army Air Corps in the summer of 1941 and was trained as an airplane mechanic. Although he became violently ill during his first plane ride, he applied for the “Flying Sergeant” program. He persevered through the airsickness phase, learned the mechanics of flying, excelled in seeing and then shooting air and ground targets, and was recommended to become a fighter pilot. More training ensued, interrupted by a temporary assignment as a test pilot. Yeager was shot down over occupied France after only eight missions.

Yeager’s account of his escape from occupied France is as exciting as any fiction, but the present tense of this account and its contrast with the more logical past-tense narratives of the “other voices” weaken the impact of the writing. Whether the present tense was a concession to Yeager’s natural speech patterns or an attempt to add a sense of immediacy to the retelling of certain events, readers may...

(The entire section is 495 words.)