The Wright Brothers
by David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 320p.
I've always been fascinated with aircraft, particularly those of the First and Second World War. This interest can probably be traced back to my reading Donald Jack's Three Cheers for Me (and the first two or three sequels) when I was quite young. And the Wright brothers, well, they're the genesis. The first flyers ever.
The book starts out with too much detail about the Wright's family, bicycle business, and (particularly unnecessary) a thorough description of the fittings in the house. But McCullough does find his footing and get going on the state of flight as it was when the Wrights started looking into the idea, and their process to get to Kitty Hawk. We all knew that they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903, right? What I didn't know was what a pain it was to get there, to get materials transported there, and to survive the storms and mosquitoes there. It didn't sound like a fun place. But (and the book portrays this well) the Wright brothers were incredibly determined, and worked through just about anything.
But the thing I found most fascinating was the five years after Kitty Hawk. Everyone in the world knows now that the Wrights were first, and flew in 1903. Back then there was no video, there was no Internet, and it was literally YEARS before people even believed them. Most people (including the Wright's own government, the United States) considered them liars and cranks. Which is why, after trying to sell their airplane to their own government and having the door slammed in their face, they took it overseas to Europe. McCullough gives a lot of the book over to the story of those intervening years, to their slowly earning recognition of their work. It's an interesting story.