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Travel books: Hearst had more than a castle

By June Sawyers, Special to Tribune Newspapers

November 27, 2013

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"Hearst Ranch: Family, Land and Legacy"

Abrams, $50

You can see it perched high on a hill, palm trees swaying over its red-tiled roof. Hearst Castle has been a favorite tourist spot since newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's Hearst Corp. donated the hilltop mansion to the state of California more than 50 years ago.

Overlooking San Simeon Bay 235 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, the castle is built on 127 acres and has 165 rooms, including three guesthouses. But there is more to Hearst Castle than just the castle. The California landmark is surrounded by 82,000 acres that are privately owned; in fact, it is the largest cattle ranch on the California coast.

This handsome and lavishly illustrated book gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the famous estate.

People flock to the San Simeon area not only to see its natural beauty but to admire the handsome architecture of the castle itself. Julia Morgan (1872-1957), the first woman architect licensed in California, designed Hearst Castle as well as the numerous ranch buildings, including a dairy barn, cowboy bunkhouse, airplane hangar, poultry ranch, employee residences, warehouse buildings and haciendas.

Author Victoria Kastner shares stories of the countless Hollywood celebrities who stayed at the castle. Among the most prominent were Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Will Rogers.

Kastner also offers portraits of cowboy life at the ranch, and he discusses the preservation of San Simeon's rugged coastline.

The book includes archival photographs, maps and illustrations and more than 100 color photographs, with a foreword by Stephen T. Hearst, great-grandson.

"Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines"

University of Minnesota Press, $39.95

Founded in 1926, Northwest Airlines completed its merger with Delta Air Lines in 2010. Over its more than 80 years in operation, it navigated drastic changes in the aviation industry, many of them documented in this book. The airline began as a mail carrier — it even transported the occasional solo passenger — until it grew into one of the biggest airlines in the world.

The company was well known for its business innovations and for its numerous technological achievements — it was the first airline, for example, to offer oxygen masks to passengers, in 1938. On the other hand, labor issues, debt accumulation, federal airline deregulation and just plain bad luck eventually took their toll.

In this wide-ranging "company" history — and it is much more than that — author Jack El-Hai recalls the airline's humble beginnings in the Midwest, carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service. Before long its operations expanded into many cities, making it a major regional carrier, then a powerful national and eventually international carrier. Because of its service to Asian cities, it even began advertising itself as Northwest Orient Airlines and later still the Fan-Jet Airline.

In 1949, it debuted Boeing's double-decker Stratocruiser, which enabled faster, more comfortable flights to Asia, and because of technological advancements, nonstop pan-Asian flights also became possible. But deregulation, employee layoffs and competition from low-cost airlines, among other reasons, led to Northwest's perilous decline. In 2005 the airline declared bankruptcy.

Like all airlines, Northwest has had its share of problems. Undoubtedly the most notorious was when the enigmatic D.B. Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient plane on Thanksgiving eve 1971, demanded a ransom of $200,000 and parachuted from the aircraft, never to be seen again. Nearly 40 years later, six days before the merger with Delta, the so-called "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, unsuccessfully tried to detonate a bomb.

"Non-Stop" is not just a history of a particular airline, it is an examination of the whole airline industry. It's a must for aviation buffs everywhere.

ctc-travel@tribune.com