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"A riveting...saga of survival against formidable odds" (Washington Post) about one man who survived a World War II plane crash in Alaska''s harsh Yukon territory

Shortly before Christmas in 1943, five Army aviators left Alaska''s Ladd Field on a routine flight to test their hastily retrofitted B-24 Liberator in harsh winter conditions. The mission ended in a crash that claimed all but one-Leon Crane, a city kid from Philadelphia with no wilderness experience. With little more than a parachute for cover and an old Boy Scout knife in his pocket, Crane found himself alone in subzero temperatures. 81 Days Below Zero recounts, for the first time, the full story of Crane''s remarkable twelve-week saga.

Review

"A gripping story."
Kirkus Reviews

"A solid entry in the perennially popular canon of real-life adventure stories."
Booklist

"A riveting tale of survival."
BookPage

"This would be a great read at the beach on a hot summer day...An interesting sage of survival against formidable odds."
Washington Post

"[An] excellent volume...Murphy crafted a volume that is superbly written, thoroughly researched, and is unique within this popular genre. Crane''s incredible story of survival deserves to be known by a far greater audience. That is why 81 Days Below Zero is such a valuable contribution."
Military Review

"[A] thrilling true story...Many have been the tales of man against nature, the struggle for survival among icy peaks in a howling wilderness--some fictitious (Jack London''s "To Build a Fire"), others far too true ("Alive"). Few if any have chronicled such an epic battle as this, the journey of a lone airman from near death to life, in the course of which might be seen a series of miracles, fortified by his indomitable will to survive...It is a well-told tale."
Roanoke Times

"A primer for anyone looking for information on extreme weather survival."
New York Journal of Books

"Murphy vividly describes Crane''s World War II Alaskan ordeal."
Military Officer

"Leon Crane''s amazing story is recounted in great detail. The author relates the young aviator''s harrowing tale in smooth prose, which beckons the reader to continue reading. There are many survival stories of airmen and sailors adrift at sea and how they beat the odds. This story reveals how one flyer endured an experience just as extreme and lived to tell about it."
World War II History Magazine

"[Murphy] manages to transport the reader to a cold and isolated arctic landscape through vivid descriptions...A satisfying read for military aviation buffs and anyone with an interest in Alaska history during the war years."
Alaska History

"An epic tale and one that will hold the attention of anyone interested in Alaska, World War II history, survival, or operations in the extreme cold...This story''s value lies in giving us an understanding of how it is possible to survive in the harshest conditions on almost nothing but wits, guts and determination."
Association of the United States Army

"This is a well written book which should be of interest to anyone who likes aviation history, survival stories and the will to live when confronted with seemingly impossible odds."
Military magazine

"Murphy relays the incredible survival story in subzero conditions with masterful suspense."
Jacksonville Journal-Courier

"An exciting, caring, and interesting story."
Portland Review of Books

"[A] sharply detailed, gripping account...The reader shivers with Crane as he ponders each next step through a desolate Alaskan forest when a warm day during the winter of 1943 is zero degrees Fahrenheit...A fresh, vivid, film-worthy tale of World War II survival."
Charleston Post and Courier

"Gripping...Murphy perfectly captures Crane''s predicament of trying to survive in some of the most brutal terrain and weather on the planet...This book is an epic story of one man''s will to survive in a harsh environment."
Collected Miscellany

About the Author

Brian Murphy is a journalist at the Washington Post. He joined the paper after more than twenty years as an award-winning foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. He has three previous books, including 81 Days Below Zero, and currently lives in Washington with his wife Toula Vlahou.

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4.4 out of 54.4 out of 5
515 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

N. Bowers
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The author recounts an amazing survival tale of a WWII air pilot that survives ...
Reviewed in the United States on January 7, 2018
The author recounts an amazing survival tale of a WWII air pilot that survives 81 days in the Alaskan wilderness. All the research for the book was done posthumous to the main character, Leon Crane. This is an impressive display of research and reading this quilted story is... See more
The author recounts an amazing survival tale of a WWII air pilot that survives 81 days in the Alaskan wilderness. All the research for the book was done posthumous to the main character, Leon Crane. This is an impressive display of research and reading this quilted story is satisfactory amazement in itself.
I enjoyed the book because I learned about the Alaskan wilderness and contemplated temperatures I would never even dream of experiencing. To learn of rivers producing and cracking four feet thick ice and -50 F temperatures is just awe inspiring. I also enjoyed learning the war history and the relevance of Alaska’s geography and the role it played in Russian-American relations during the time. I had not idea Alaska was even relevant to WWII but it really was an important military hub that helped the efforts to defeat Hitler.
I will contemplate Leon’s survival instincts for a long time and wonder if I would be able to last as long as he had. His level-headed decision-making at different points in his journey was phenomenal. His incredible will to live during his journey is an inspiration, and after he was returned to base, his humility as described by the author is just fantastic.
Lastly, I enjoyed the book because here in New England, temperatures have recently dropped to sub zero and while I would very much like to complain, I found myself incapable of whining about my circumstance as I was reading about this man, Lean Crane, who survived much worse on much less. The book has left me with a lasting gratitude on life and appreciation for my own comfortable surroundings!
It’s a pretty easy and fast read. I recommend it! There are parts in the book where I think "ok the author is really far-reaching his research", but this weakness is easy to overlook if you focus on the primary story.
18 people found this helpful
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don701
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Waste of Time and Money
Reviewed in the United States on July 21, 2020
There are so many things wrong with this book it is difficult to know where to start. 1. Totally unnecessary "filler" material - The book is roughly 200 pages (without the epilogue and references), at page 75, I had read little about the actual survival and a lot... See more
There are so many things wrong with this book it is difficult to know where to start.
1. Totally unnecessary "filler" material - The book is roughly 200 pages (without the epilogue and references), at page 75, I had read little about the actual survival and a lot about unrelated detail. At this point I gave up when there was detail about the Western Union uniform and specifically the uniform hat.
2. The author, to his credit, points out in the beginning that he has no expertise/experience with aviation or survival. The problem is the author/publisher obviously did not even consult with some experts for proofreading the book. Some quick proofreading and terminology changes could have done a lot to increase the readability and credibility of the book.
I do have extensive flying military/civilian flying experience and a degree in aeronautical engineering, however, I read a lot of books and have total tolerance for wording and detail that is not technically correct. And I really enjoy survival stories of all kinds - this book is just not worth the time or money.
7 people found this helpful
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Ragle...
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fact and Fiction
Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2015
As one who supplied some of the information that Brian Murphy incorporated in his book, I have several comments. First, it is a very good "read," written by one who is quite skilled in narrative writing. Second, although the backbone of facts is true, it is more in... See more
As one who supplied some of the information that Brian Murphy incorporated in his book, I have several comments. First, it is a very good "read," written by one who is quite skilled in narrative writing. Second, although the backbone of facts is true, it is more in the category of "historical novel" than true story. I would compare its "truth" to the way in which Bernard Cornwall includes a framework of facts in his "Sharp" novels ... facts fleshed out with imagined or extrapolated, plausible, filler generated by the author. I grew up in Fairbanks, and my father is the R. C. Ragle mentioned in connection with the Ladd Field Air Search and Rescue and the Cold Weather Test operation. Murphy''s material about being alone and on one''s own in the Charley Creek drainage in midwinter ring true to me. Crane was very lucky to have stumbled across the trappers'' cabins and caches, but it is my guess he wouldn''t have survived without them.
16 people found this helpful
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Marta Jenssen
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Given up for dead in a very remote area
Reviewed in the United States on March 8, 2021
Alaska today is still a vast, unexplored area the size of many of the lower 48 states put together. During WWII some men were stationed there to test out the planes they would be flying into combat. Without satellite transmissions for radio calls and lacking remote relay... See more
Alaska today is still a vast, unexplored area the size of many of the lower 48 states put together. During WWII some men were stationed there to test out the planes they would be flying into combat. Without satellite transmissions for radio calls and lacking remote relay stations they were often out of contact with their base left to get the job done and return...or not. This story follows what has been pieced together after one of these missions goes awry and nothing can be found of the crash site let alone any survivors in the cold expanse NE of Fairbanks during winter. It''s another story of guts and fortitude, little resources available, and putting one foot in front of the other. With a bit of luck and the good will of trappers looking out for each other in the backwoods, this book tells the story of a pilot who put his common sense and perseverance to the test and made it home.
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Tom George
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great slice of Alaskan and WWII history
Reviewed in the United States on October 28, 2020
During cold weather testing of a WWII bomber aircraft, the crew had to bail out in a remote part of Alaska. In mid-winter, with temperatures reaching well below zero. The one surviving crew member was not experienced in living in "the bush" nor was he familiar with the... See more
During cold weather testing of a WWII bomber aircraft, the crew had to bail out in a remote part of Alaska. In mid-winter, with temperatures reaching well below zero. The one surviving crew member was not experienced in living in "the bush" nor was he familiar with the country. But guided by some luck and good common sense, he survived, eventually walking out to a location where he found human habitation.

The author does a great job of introducing the characters, the setting and the world situation at the time, both when it happened, just before Christmas in 1943, but also of the Park Service employee who years later did the legwork to tell the rest of the story. Well worth the read!
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Jeffrey T. Munson
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Exciting Story of Hardship, Survival, And Triumph
Reviewed in the United States on August 11, 2015
On December 21, 1943, Leon Crane and the rest of the crew of his B-24 bomber took off from Ladd field in Alaska. The purpose of their mission was to run tests on the propellers of the plane. The mission ended in disaster; the plane crashed and Crane was the only survivor.... See more
On December 21, 1943, Leon Crane and the rest of the crew of his B-24 bomber took off from Ladd field in Alaska. The purpose of their mission was to run tests on the propellers of the plane. The mission ended in disaster; the plane crashed and Crane was the only survivor. In this book, author Brian Murphy describes the flight, crash, and Crane''s struggle to survive.

Crane managed to bail out of the stricken bomber, but he was not nearly prepared for what he was about to endure. He had forgotten his cold-weather mittens, and all he had of consequence with him were 40 matches and a boy scout pocket knife. For the next 81 days, Crane somehow managed to survive in Alaska''s harsh wilderness. He used his parachute to sleep in and carefully rationed his matches for making fires. Fortunately, he stumbled upon an abandoned cabin which contained food and other useful items. It wasn''t until much later that he came upon a person living in the wilderness who was able to help him get back to his base.

"81 Days Below Zero" is a harrowing tale of endurance and survival. The book not only tells Crane''s story, but also that of crash investigators that searched over the plane years later. These investigators were also able to discover other human remains within the wreckage and have them positively identified. This book serves as a testament to Crane''s struggle to survive, endure the unendurable, and emerge healthy and strong. Highly recommended.
4 people found this helpful
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Robert Daniel Pinto
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great story, told poorly
Reviewed in the United States on August 17, 2015
I love adventure stories! Sadly, this one falls flat, considering the potential for a great story. The author seemed intent to wander endlessly, back and forth, barely sparing a few paragraphs on the subject of this man''s trial, before he wandered back to another time,... See more
I love adventure stories! Sadly, this one falls flat, considering the potential for a great story. The author seemed intent to wander endlessly, back and forth, barely sparing a few paragraphs on the subject of this man''s trial, before he wandered back to another time, another person, and on and on it went! If the book were from a free source, I''d say "Yes", but for $15.00, I just have to say "Check the library", or find another book. This one is a test!
18 people found this helpful
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M. Thompson
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Ok - but over-rated in my opinion.
Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2017
It was okay - but the author spends most of the book regaling you with information about other early flying narratives and stuff in bush pilot days in Alaska - as apparently there wasn''t enough to make an actual book out of the hero (Lt Leon Crane)''s exploits of surviving... See more
It was okay - but the author spends most of the book regaling you with information about other early flying narratives and stuff in bush pilot days in Alaska - as apparently there wasn''t enough to make an actual book out of the hero (Lt Leon Crane)''s exploits of surviving a B-24 plane crash in WWII on Alaska''s frozen wilderness to do that on its own. In my opinion there is too little on Crane and too much on others lives, but it''s readable. I finished it though in one day.
7 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

Matt Devine
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Boring
Reviewed in Canada on March 17, 2021
I like this genre but this one was pretty boring and I couldn’t finish it. Lots of rambling about an imagined backstory and little about the event itself. There are so many better stories I would look to other before buying this one.
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good Read
Reviewed in Canada on August 4, 2020
Well written and flows nicely. Interesting account or a survival journey with additional historical information to add to the interest. It is always interesting when humans take on nature and win.
One person found this helpful
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Mike Bourcier
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Amazing story, a lesson ia survival.
Reviewed in Canada on May 16, 2020
As I was looking for a blow by blow of the survival saga, I was disappointed with the amount of unrelated details. It turned out to be a history of WWII aviation. In my opinion, this could have been a 90 page story.
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good book
Reviewed in Canada on December 31, 2020
Although the book took much longer to arrive than expected, I look forward to reading it!
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Annieo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This is an amazing story and a page turner
Reviewed in Canada on June 22, 2018
This is an amazing story and a page turner. It''s unbelievable that this man survived to tell the tale.
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