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The Berlin airlift, the climax of the first major Cold War crisis, began in 1948 when the Soviets, attempting to force the Allies out of Berlin, imposed a blockade on communications between the American, British and French occupation zones and the conquered city. The Americans and British countered by flying in sufficient food, coal, medicine and raw material to enable the Berliners to survive the 11-month siege. Aside from the details of the operation itself (``a saga of inadequate equipment and sheer slapdashery''), the British authors provide a clear explanation of how the Four Powers came to occupy the city and why it was vital to each of them, describing the initial collective shock experienced by the Western allies when, soon after the 1945 fall of Berlin, the they received their first experience of Soviet intimidation. The book is also a richly detailed tribute to the American and British aircrews and mechanics who kept the ``air bridge'' in operation against heavy odds, and to the fortitude of the Berliners, who remained cheerfully defiant of the Soviets throughout the ordeal. Photos. BOMC alternate.