Neil Belton at Head of Zeus has acquired Marked For Death, a new book by James Hamilton-Paterson, the bestselling author of Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World.

Hamilton-Paterson is one of the rare authors who can write as beautifully about war and machines as he does about coral reefs and tropical storms.

He has now written a great book about the first war in the air, when very young men flying fragile aircraft over the wilderness of trenches on the Western Front tried to shoot each other down or observe their enemies’ movements on the ground.  They flew without parachutes, and with minimal training, and after a few weeks many of them were dead, falling through a mile of air because their engines were shot up or their wings had suddenly snapped off.

This is not another book about the great aces, though Albert Ball, Mick Mannock and The Red Baron are part of the story. It is about the development of aircraft as lethal weapons and what it was like to fly them. At the beginning of the war pilots often sat in a kind of canoe with an engine and an open trelliswork of metal tubing behind them, and had no means of defending themselves. They flew so slowly that in a strong headwind an aircraft could fly backwards. By 1918 they flew aerobatic machines and could fire machine guns through their spinning propellers, and air power was a crucial part of every modern army.

Marked For Death is lyrical, immensely authoritative and moving. At once a homage to the famous aircraft of the period and to the young, doomed pilots who flew them, Hamilton-Paterson has written an unusual history of the First World War’s most glamorous and deadly front.

Neil Belton said: ‘I’ve had the privilege of working with James Hamilton-Paterson for more than twenty years, and I could not be more pleased that he is joining Head of Zeus with such a magnificent book.’

James Hamilton-Paterson is one of Britain’s most unusual and versatile literary writers. Winner of the Whitbread Prize for his first novel, Gerontius, he has also written one of the great books about the sea, Seven-Tenths, and a bestselling comic novel, Cooking With Fernet Branca.


Marked for Death will be available in hardback and ebook.