S. C. Gwynne

Pulitzer Prize Finalist and a New York Times Best-Selling Author

Reviews for His Majesty's Airship

"It is really one of the most fascinating and interesting books I have read about airships and Gwynne proves very good documented and researched why airships and in particular Britain’s R101 were dangerous and doomed as a global air transport system. Samuel Gwynne is certainly a very good storyteller!" – Max Heldring, Aviation Book Review

"This tale of hubris, quixotic dreams, and improbable figures is a fast-paced, real-life dirigible ride about the 1930 fireball that brought down the British airship R101. The disastrous end may be foreordained, but the journey is the destination."
– New York Times Book Review (6/11): 9 New Books We Recommend This Week

 "... a Promethean tale of unlimited ambitions and technical limitations, airy dreams and explosive endings.”
Wall Street Journal

“We can be grateful to S.C. Gwynne for bringing [the R101] back to life in his captivating, thoroughly researched book. Gwynne spins a rich tale of technology, daring and folly that transcends its putative subject. Like any good popular history, it’s also a portrait of an age. At the center of Gwynne’s narrative is a brisk, tightly focused account of R101’s first and final voyage, which keeps the pages turning. Gwynne makes the most of R101’s short, doomed flight, which he deftly reconstructs from official post-mortems, accounts by its few survivors, and recent scholarly research that pinpoints the exact cause of the airship’s destruction. That the ending is no surprise takes nothing from the power of his story.”
New York Times

“Gwynne chronicles the saga of British Airship R101, which disappeared in a fireball seven years before the Hindenburg disaster but is pretty much forgotten today. His Majesty’s Airship remedies that lapse in spectacular fashion, thanks to a saga involving a British officer, a married Romanian princess, and an aviation hero who succumbed not to gravity but to drink. Gwynne brings this story alive with a sharp eye for detail, an engaging empathy for his characters, and a gift for storytelling second to none.”
Air Mail

"Meticulously researched & vibrantly written...this is an immersive & enlightening account of how hubris and impatience can lead to disaster”
Publishers Weekly

"A sturdy, well-paced contribution to aviation history”
Kirkus Reviews

For Americans, the Hindenburg is perhaps the definitive image of crashing and burning. But the fiery crash of the British airship R101, seven years earlier, killed more people. Forty-eight lives were lost in the R101′s maiden overseas voyage to France in 1930, vs. 36 in the better-known Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst, N.J. Bestselling author S.C. Gwynne will appear at Interabang Books at 6 p.m. on May 9 to discuss the disaster and sign copies of his new book about the R101, His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine.
Gwynne, an Austin resident, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his 2010 book Empire of the Summer Moon. His Majesty’s Airship is due out May 2.
Dallas Morning News

“An addictive account of the rise and disastrous fall of the R101 airship. Author S C Gwynne, no stranger to literary success, does a fine job in explaining the machine’s lineage, capturing the spirit of the times and something of the never-say-die attitude that persisted. A compelling read.”
FlyPast Magazine

“Gwynne meticulously recounts the final flight of the British airship R101 and the entire zeppelin era in this engaging history. There is plenty of international zeppelin history here, but it is the personal conflicts in the R101 control room, exacerbated by Scott’s spiraling problem with alcoholism, the social context, and the near minute-by-minute presentation of the tragic flight that will capture reader attention.”

“When pondering ill-fated airships, most think of the Hindenburg, which famously went down in flames in 1937. But seven years prior, the British airship R101 met an even deadlier fate, crashing and killing 48 passengers. In this historical tale, Gwynne recounts the rise and fall of the vessel and the doomed romance of Lord Christopher Thompson and his married lover, Princess Marthe Bibesco.” His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine by S.C. Gwynne (May 2)
Austin Monthly

“S.C. Gwynne is a consummate storyteller, and his well-documented account of the 1930 crash of a spectacularly large hydrogen-filled British airship is not to be missed.”

"... it is a great book. Highly recommended."
Compulsive Reader

“PW Picks: Books of the Week, May 1, 2023”

“The tragic story of the British airship R101—which went down in a spectacular hydrogen-fueled fireball in 1930, killing more people than died in the Hindenburg disaster seven years later—has been largely forgotten. In His Majesty’s Airship, historian S.C. Gwynne resurrects it in vivid detail, telling the epic story of great ambition gone terribly wrong.” 

“In Gwynne’s masterfully told tale, the characters behind the making of the prosaically named R101 are at least as vivid as the airship itself.”
The Advocate

His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine, by S. C. Gwynne is a nonfiction book, but it’s also a fabulous story that deserves a spot in this blog of murder mysteries, espionage tales, and thrillers. Gwynne has produced a wonderful story even if you’re not used to such nonfiction works. … I thought the book was fantastic, and if you have any interest in the history of flight, this book is a must-read.
Men Reading Books

Twining them all together, Mr. Gwynne provides us with not just an unknown history but an exciting read. That we hardly know whether to treat the whole history as horrifying or comical simply adds to the fun. At any rate, I'm off the idea of blimp travel for awhile.
— Brothers Judd

A former journalist and Pulitzer finalist, S.C. Gwynne, A&S '77 (MA), has written seven nonfiction books on subjects as disparate as football, banking, and the Civil War. His latest compelling foray looks into airships, particularly one with a huge psychic payload.

— JoAnn Greco, Johns Hopkins Magazine

More Reviews

"The acclaimed author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell drills down on the agonizingly slow, murderous crawl that was the last year of the Civil War. At this point in the conflict, all thoughts of the romance of war had been washed away by rivers of blood, leaving the players—Grant, Lee, Sherman, Lincoln, and, surprisingly but fittingly, Clara Barton—exposed and etched like the figures in a Greek tragedy."
The Daily Beast

"Samuel C. Gwynne is an historian with a novelist’s heart. Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, will be received enthusiastically by history buffs and all others who enjoy a story well-told.”
The Civil War Courier

"Too many Civil War books drill so deeply into the conflict that one can lose sight of what it all means. That’s not the case with Gwynne’s lucid and gripping account, in which he strings together a series of vignettes and profiles of wartime figures in novelistic fashion to tell the story of the war’s tumultuous closing months, through Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and Jefferson Davis’ humiliating capture in Georgia."

"Hymns of the Republic is an engrossing examination of the evolution of Union strategy during the Civil War, focusing on a variety of participants from well-known leader such Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to private citizens like Clara Barton who sought to relieve the suffering wrought by the conflict. Author S.C. Gwynne brings an immediacy to his retelling of familiar events that makes the story seem new." 
Argunners War History Magazine

"With an evocative, yet accessible and easily-readable prose, Gwynne brings the reader from the promotion of U.S. Grant as lieutenant general through the bloody campaigning and ends his book in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination. Between the pages Gwynne highlights the importance of the United States Colored Troops (USCTs) in the Federal war effort, detailing the large mountain of obstacles those men had to climb just to prove themselves."
Emerging Civil War

S. C. Gwynne’s “Hymns of the Republic” is an excellent book about the last, vicious, uncertain year of the Civil War, beginning with the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 and ending with the proper burial of the dead in Andersonville Cemetery in May 1865."
3 Quarks Daily

“Anyone with an interest in history, the Civil War, or the lives of those who lived it will thoroughly enjoy "Hymns of the Republic: The 
Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War" by S.C. Gwynne. This is a must buy!”
Another Opinion with Paul Hosse

"The reviewer applauds Sam for “[c]reating suspense in recounting familiar events marks real talent in a historian; […] covering in detail events of the Civil War’s final year and giving his readers a real sense of wonder, even thrill. In vivid, bloody prose, he lays out the landscapes of the war’s culminating battles, not sparing the reader the gut-punch of inhuman horror such slaughter creates.”

Star Review from Booklist

“[A] riveting Civil War history giving politics and combat equal attention.”

Star Review from Kirkus

 “Gwynne excels in tightly focused storytelling, beginning most chapters with a well-chosen, often curiosity-provoking photograph. This is a must-read for Civil War enthusiasts.”
Publishers Weekly 

“The action of the story which focuses on the fourth and final year of the Civil War is incredible. If you are a fan of this period of American history, then reading this book is a must. Gwynne is clearly a master of nonfiction writing."
Men Reading Books

“This brilliantly told account of the final year of the Civil War brings to life the vivid personalities who struggled for control of America’s destiny. At once sweeping and intimate, Hymns of the Republic is a masterwork of history.”
Lawrence Wright, author of God Save Texas 

“With Hymns of the Republic, acclaimed author S. C. Gwynne brings the final year of the Civil War to life in the fashion of literary giants Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton. In gripping and poignant prose, Gwynne synthesizes the myriad tragic events into a compelling tale of epic scale. Writing with compassion and rare insight, he also offers vigorous and deeply human portrayals of Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Sherman and less familiar figures whose actions determined the trajectory of the war’s brutal last year. Unquestionably, Hymns of the Republic is one of the most stirring Civil War books to appear in years.” 
—Peter Cozzens, author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West and Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign

“With Hymns of the Republic, S.C. Gwynne has found the unthinkable: A fresh take on the Civil War. By compressing the narrative into the conflict's fraught and frantic last year, Gwynne breathes new life into a tale we thought we knew. Gwynne's carefully interwoven stories build upon each other like a Greek tragedy. Here, in vivid, muscular language, is the final unraveling of our most uncivil war.” 
—Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers and On Desperate Ground

“S.C. Gwynne's riveting book, Hymns of the Republic, finally made me realize that one cannot fully understand America without understanding the American Civil War. Gwynne's work is deeply researched and yet written like the best kind of fiction...it stopped me in my tracks. Gwynne has to be one of the very best writers working today.” 
—Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe and The Perfect Storm