This is exactly the kind of book you would expect the now-legendary Sully Sullenberger to write. In his memoir, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, which set down so memorably on the Hudson River in January, is earnest, controlled and exacting. Sullenberger is not prone to flights of fancy—in fact, he is the very pilot you’d choose for the job if you had any say in it. His book reflects the same qualities.
For someone who has spent so much time in the air (he’s been flying for 42 of his 58 years), Sully is remarkably down-to-earth. This memoir covers a wide array of issues, from certain practical aspects of airline price-cutting (it cuts corners on the kind of pilot experience that gives depth of skill) to a rueful assessment of his own healthy sense of self (“regimented, demanding of myself and others—a perfectionist”).
He alternates thoughtful accounts of family dynamics with a career overview, including seven years in military service after graduation from the Air Force Academy and a stint at Purdue in a master’s program that enabled him “to understand the why as well as the how” of the world. Throughout, Sully selects just the right anecdotes to convey both his love for his family and his practical approach to life, all rounded out by his endearing appreciation for the elements of flying that cannot be pinned down.
Eventually Sully gets around to the defining incident of his life that catapulted him into the spotlight and arrives at something millions have suspected ever since those riveting pictures of the downed plane and its passengers first appeared on our TV screens: “Technology is no substitute for experience, skill and judgment.” Readers will know how it all turns out, but the details are engrossing.
The world will never return to its former state, but life has been renewed for Sully as it has for each of the other 154 passengers on Flight 1549. His “search for what really matters” appears to have arrived at family and flying, but subtly includes the encompassing qualities that discerning persons discover in the course of a lifetime. Like the best pilots, Sully just got there a little early.
Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.