West with the Night by Beryl Markham

book cover for west with the night

West With the Night is one of my all-time favorite books. I know there is some debate as to whether or not Beryl herself actually wrote it, but to me this does not detract from the sheer artistry of language and depth of adventure within. There are passages in this book that I re-read from time to time which do the same for me as watching a beautiful sunset or listening to a bird sing on a lovely summer’s day. My flight instructor and friend John B. Brown recommended this to me early in my flight training, and in doing so gave me a great gift!

The book is, in short, an exceptional, inspiring life described in absolutely beautiful language. Beryl’s bold skill in aviation and horse racing in British colonial Africa weren’t her only talents—Ernest Hemingway praised her writing ability such that it put him to shame! Her aviation adventures include such hair-raising stories as transporting medical supplies late at night to isolated, primitive landing strips and flying low over remote, dangerous areas finding and tracking elephants for hunting parties. What bravery, skill, knowledge, and confidence this woman had. Chapter 13 is particularly moving for me: the story of the horse Wise Child’s last race. The tension and emotion Beryl feels as she watches the race unfold come off the pages so richly, you are immersed in her mind like in no other horse race passage I have ever read. (And I have read many great ones!)

Whether or not your interests lie in aviation, horses, Africa, or completely elsewhere, you’ll find Beryl’s eloquent stories and strong, no-nonsense personality drawing you into this truly memorable read. The woman flew solo across the Atlantic for goodness sake! What a heroine for all of us. And what a lovely, unforgettable book.

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