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The Wright Brothers (2015)

by David McCullough

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3,3301343,994 (4.19)139
"As he did so brilliantly in THE GREAT BRIDGE and THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS, David McCullough once again tells a dramatic story of people and technology, this time about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly, Wilbur and Orville Wright"--Provided by publisher.
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Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough is a thorough and excellent account of the lives of the two brothers who built and flew the first airplane. Through primary documents and narrative language, McCullough tells the story in a way that feels more fiction than history. The author reads the audiobook with his typical bravado and easy-to-listen-to voice. ( )
  Hccpsk | May 23, 2024 |
Review of The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

From the beginning, the author makes the case that what the Wright Brothers did they did separate from religious influence which sometimes dominated their lives. Their father was a church Bishop, but he encouraged his children to be free thinkers and even encouraged them to read "The Great Agnostic", Robert Ingersoll (17). It was apparently from Ingersoll's writing that the brothers stopped regular church attendance, a change the Bishop seems to have accepted without protest. (18) These delimiting adverbs reveal that the statements are not rooted in archival evidence, which belies a theme. If there was no religious influence, why did they still attend church, and refuse to break the sabbath? (172)

In his summary of the culture of Kitty Hawk when the brothers arrived there, McCullough relates the curt anecdote that their first host described the residents as religious bumpkins who believed that "God did not intend that man should ever fly." (48) Why is this in the narrative when the 'bumpkin' who related this tidbit, former area Postmaster Tate, became an avid field hand to the brothers? Which is it - opposition or support from the religious locals?

Anyway, what McCullough portrays as the sources of the success of these aeronauts is:
1) their primary scientific research. Before they first arrived at Kitty Hawk, they had studied and/or corresponded with noted aviation pioneers like Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute; they corresponded with the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Weather Bureau.
2) It was "the patient perseverance of men well born and well reared" that made their many trials possible (114).

Right to the end, the fame and accolades bestowed on the Wright Brothers did not 'change them nor turn their heads in the least.' (251) There was no boasting . . . "They are the imperturbable men from home." (251)

I contend this is a McCullough spin. e.g., he blithely notes they were lodging in luxury hotels in later years and Wilber fought over patent suits to protect his claims and refuted Chanute over their reputation (249). The story would read differently had these features been developed; more than the slight reference to the efforts of the brothers to sue to preserve their reputation, fueled by their great "pride of accomplishment." (255) Also, they built a grand new house (mansion, 256). Sounds like 'change' to me. ( )
  Occasionally | Apr 20, 2024 |
A wonderfully informative and detailed book about the beginnings of manned flight. I learned a great deal, as I always do from McCullough's books. I was particularly impressed with how the brothers are portrayed. I felt like I got to know them. ( )
  hobbitprincess | Feb 11, 2024 |
(2015) Excellent biography that concentrates on the brothers designing, testing and marketing the first viable airplane. Very little time is spent on their early life nor on their lives after successfully selling it. Very good book.KIRKUS REVIEWA charmingly pared-down life of the ?boys? that grounds their dream of flight in decent character and work ethic.There is a quiet, stoical awe to the accomplishments of these two unprepossessing Ohio brothers in this fluently rendered, skillfully focused study by two-time Pulitzer Prize?winning and two-time National Book Award?winning historian McCullough (The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 2011, etc.). The author begins with a brief yet lively depiction of the Wright home dynamic: reeling from the death of their mother from tuberculosis in 1889, the three children at home, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine, had to tend house, as their father, an itinerant preacher, was frequently absent. McCullough highlights the intellectual stimulation that fed these bookish, creative, close-knit siblings. Wilbur was the most gifted, yet his parents' dreams of Yale fizzled after a hockey accident left the boy with a mangled jaw and broken teeth. The boys first exhibited their mechanical genius in their print shop and then in their bicycle shop, which allowed them the income and space upstairs for machine-shop invention. Dreams of flight were reawakened by reading accounts by Otto Lilienthal and other learned treatises and, specifically, watching how birds flew. Wilbur's dogged writing to experts such as civil engineer Octave Chanute and the Smithsonian Institute provided advice and response, as others had long been preoccupied by controlled flight. Testing their first experimental glider took the Wrights over several seasons to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to experiment with their ?wing warping? methods. There, the strange, isolated locals marveled at these most ?workingest boys,? and the brothers continually reworked and repaired at every step. McCullough marvels at their success despite a lack of college education, technical training, ?friends in high places? or ?financial backers?Ąthey were just boys obsessed by a dream and determined to make it reality.An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators.Pub Date: May 5th, 2015ISBN: 978-1-4767-2874-2Page count: 336ppPublisher: Simon & SchusterReview Posted Online: March 3rd, 2015Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015
  derailer | Jan 25, 2024 |
Orville and Wilbur Wright were not your average inventors. For one thing, they actually liked people. For another, they were scientists and remarkable craftsmen. But what I find really amazing about them is that once they verified the science of aerodynamics they taught themselves to fly and taught others. Einstein, Faraday, Rutherford, Bohr. These men were great scientists. Edison, Fulton, Tessla were phenomenal inventors. The Wrights at Kitty Hawk taught themselves to fly almost but not quite like the birds. Prototype sportsmen, but not in the competitive meaning. They demonstrated over and over the proof of what they had learned and actually took pleasure in the process. And it wasn't just the fame and the money. Once Wilbur Wright got to Paris you couldn't keep him out of the museums or away from those beautiful wide boulevards. He just took such pleasure out of life. As much as any workaholic could. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
David McCullough is interested in only one thing, namely how it was possible that two autodidacts from Ohio managed to satisfy a longing that the species had harbored for centuries. “The Wright Brothers” is merely this: a story, well told, about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished. As the comic Louis C.K. has said, reprovingly, to those who complain about the inconveniences and insults of modern air travel: “You’re sitting. In a chair. In the SKY!!” Which is saying a lot. On its own terms, “The Wright Brothers” soars.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Daniel Okrent (May 4, 2015)
 
This concise, exciting and fact-packed book sees the easy segue between bicycling and aerial locomotion, which at that point was mostly a topic for bird fanciers and dreamers.
added by rakerman | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (pay site) (May 3, 2015)
 
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Epigraph
No bird soars in a calm.  Wilber Wright
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For Rosalee
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From ancient times and into the Middle Ages, man has dreamed of taking to the sky, of soaring into the blue like the birds.
In as strong a photograph as any taken of the brothers together, they sit side by side on the back porch steps of the Wright family home on a small side street on the west end of Dayton, Ohio.
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"As he did so brilliantly in THE GREAT BRIDGE and THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS, David McCullough once again tells a dramatic story of people and technology, this time about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly, Wilbur and Orville Wright"--Provided by publisher.

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