The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Everything that was known about aeronautics was wrong. The Wright brothers started in a hole of misinformation and had to discover all of what they eventually learned the hard way—often by falling out of the sky. Beginning with gliders on the soft, sandy hills near Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, they studied the physics of lift. They abandoned that first glider to a local fisherman whose wife removed the fabric from the wings and made dresses for her daughters. Two years later the first powered Wright Flyer flew exactly four times. The longest flight was fifty-nine seconds. When the brothers began to publically demonstrate their machine in a field outside of Dayton, the United States government paid no attention. The first real notice they received was from France. Wilbur and Orville agreed that they should never fly together so that if one were killed, the other could continue their work. Another remarkable fact herein revealed is that the team did not solely consist of the Wright brothers, there was a Wright sister, Katherine, whose support played an invaluable part in the success of her siblings’ endeavor. Plus, they had a mechanical genius running the bicycle shop who built the Flyers’ engines. There is infinitely more to the story of first flight than we learned in school.
David McCullough has a long reputation of being one of America’s greatest historians. In The Wright Brothers he has told the story of a uniquely American triumph. The insight into the singular characters of these obsessed inventors from Dayton, Ohio, is told in brilliant clear and clean prose that reads like a novel. The depth of Mr. McCullough’s research is, as always, phenomenal. The reader is drawn intimately into the race to build the first successful airplane. We share the determination, single-minded persistence and emotional backlash as the Wrights devote their nearly ascetic lives to the goal of flight. If the term ‘Must Read’ is a cliché, so be it. The Wright Brothers is definitely a must read.
Great last minute Christmas present.
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