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The Wright Brothers


The Wright Brothers

If you’ve never been to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, I highly recommend you pay a visit there someday. Touring the property, you’ll be amazed to find that you’re walking on the exact spots where the first flights were taken. You can stand at the top of the hill from where the brothers pushed themselves and their crafts off into the humid sea air, and you can tell each time they were able to cover additional ground by the markers set in each landing spot. Their workshop is there, replete with all their tools, and you can see the small space where they worked so hard to bring flying into reality and American life.

From humble beginnings in Ohio, a couple of brothers with a penchant for engineering and a love of bicycles put two and two together and made a formidable play for icon status in American history. David McCullough, the historian-writer who has two Pulitzers and two National Book Awards sitting on his desk already, brings us an uncomplicated but completely thrilling depiction of these two men and their wild dreams. The depths to which their creation has changed the way the world works are unmistakable. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS brings us from step one with compelling details and the right amount of appreciation and ardor for their amazing creation.

"A wonderful book and a great testament to what really constitutes American genius --- the power of experimentation and the perseverance to continue moving forward even after failure after failure strike --- THE WRIGHT BROTHERS is a fabulous flight indeed."

My favorite aspect of the book is the good old get-your-hands-dirty workmanship that McCullough highlights at every turn of the story. The Wright Brothers were the epitome of “try, try again” ethics, and surely people today who lose their lunches when their Angry Birds app breaks down never would have been able to withstand the kind of rejection from the outside and pressure from the inside that the brothers endured throughout their careers. During an early flight that went beyond badly, someone asked Orville, “Were you scared?” He replied, “Scared? There wasn’t time.” They worked hard, never gave up and eventually changed the world. The perfect American success story.

However, no one was pushing these guys to invent something as wild as a flying machine. Certainly, as time went on, it was clear that they were more or less on their own until they could get it almost right. They asked for help from a lot of sources and had to wait a long time to bask in the public’s favor. But the Wrights enjoyed the rigor of their work, which was the main thing. Eventually they were lauded, but surely the enormity of their contribution increases as American history marches on.

A certain newspaper has said that they feel like McCullough’s books, always ready to be published around Father’s Day, are clearly released to be enjoyable summer reading for dads who watch the History Channel. That is such a low blow; his works, regardless of when they come out, manage to take monumental periods of American history and flesh them out with expansive details without being too cumbersome or academic. Unlike the serious and sometimes smarmy emotive quality that Ken Burns documentaries have (he the filmmaker who is striving to do the same thing with history for the masses), McCullough’s books are charming. They are written with a flair for clear language and a fanboy’s appreciation for the people and the big events about which he is writing --- a highly valuable skill since most of the world appreciates what he is doing. In this case, it is a laudable technique used beautifully.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS is a beach read in that you will feel as if you are walking in their steps on the Outer Banks sand as you read about their travails and imagine the ways in which they continued to push through and solve their problems as time went on. The fact that they finally figured it all out is a testament to American ingenuity and the pervasive power of their level-headed middle American tenacity. McCullough shapes their story with the right amount of personal and technical insight. The details will stick with you well after the Wrights have left this planet and you are watching yet another long pundit argument about the ethics of drone usage, something that could not have happened without their bare bones experiments on flying machines.

A wonderful book and a great testament to what really constitutes American genius --- the power of experimentation and the perseverance to continue moving forward even after failure after failure strike --- THE WRIGHT BROTHERS is a fabulous flight indeed.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on May 8, 2015

The Wright Brothers
by David McCullough

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2016
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1476728755
  • ISBN-13: 9781476728759