The Wright Brothers

Hello Everyone,

Today's I have something a little special in the form of a guest post by my dad!

The Wright Brothers

Summary:

Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot.

Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did?

Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, and they never stopped reading.

When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no contacts in high places, never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed.

In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.  (Summary and cover compliments of goodreads.com)

Review:

The last time I wrote a guest review for my daughter, the webmaster of this site, it was for “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” by David Sobel.  In keeping with the theme “The Wright Brothers” is the story of two mechanical geniuses who solved the riddle of heavier than air flight. 

I think that we naively give the Wright brothers too little credit for their accomplishments. By the turn of the century, the time for flight had come.  The internal combustion engine had been invented to provide power.  The Wright brothers just happened to be the experimenters who got it right first.  They were just a couple of bicycle mechanics who got lucky.  Right?  That’s how I often felt before reading this book but not anymore. 

This is a David McCullough book; and so, at times in gets bogged down in details.  At other times it passes off controversies rather with rather little attention.  Others claim to be the first in flight but their claims are summarily dismissed as those of pretenders with little explanation.  The Wright brothers were much criticized for their litigious enforcement of their patents.  In my opinion the criticisms were unjust, but McCullough does not address them, although he makes reference to the litigation. 

Despite these possible shortcomings, the reader comes away with an understanding of how much the Wright brothers contributed to the science of aviation.  Many in scientific circles at the time believed heavier than air flight was impossible and that those who pursued it were crackpots.  Others had developed theories on the shape of wings.  The Wright brothers discovered these were wrong and developed a wind tunnel to do experiments to perfect the shape of a wing that would work.  Others tried for perfectly stable flight, which never worked in the wind.  The Wright brothers developed their wing warping system, which was the first system that enabled a pilot to correct for roll instability.  The government spent over $50,000 on one attempt to develop a flying machine shortly before the Wright brothers’ first flight, which turned out in failure.  After the Wright brothers’ first flight and their continued development of Wright Flyers, the US government continued to ignore their results until Wilbur Wright took a Wright Flyer to Europe and broke record after record.  Anyone who reads this book will be amazed at how two brothers who were not part of the scientific establishment of the day solved the problem that has perplexed man since before history.  They solved the mystery of flight. 

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it?  Anyone with interest in aviation. 

A big thank you for the guest post to my dad!  You can also see his previous review for "Longitude".