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#1 New York Times bestseller

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?

David
McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising,
profoundly American story of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

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.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Wright Brothers:

4

May 5, 2015

“The Wright Brothers” is a serious review of that history
McCullough has written a serious and riveting review of the lives of Wilbur and Orville. His writing style is concise, thorough, and unpretentious. I was able to read it easily and enjoyably and learned many things about the Wright family that I didn’t know. The book was thus valuable to me.

FAMILY

McCullough makes it clear that the Wilbur and Orville were a product of their family environment. Their father was the major influence. Milton Wright was a minister and finally a bishop in the United Brethren Church in Christ.

McCullough writes — “He was an unyielding abstainer, which was rare on the frontier, a man of rectitude and purpose— all of which could have served as a description of Milton himself and Wilbur and Orville as well.”

His strict values molded and focused the views of the three younger Wrights (Katherine, Wilbur, and Orville). In addition to his strictness, he was a true classical liberal in his beliefs in the scientific method and equal rights for all people, no matter their race or gender. For example, Milton wrote to his sons when they were in Paris trying to get support for their flying machine: “Sons—Be men of the highest types personally, mentally, morally, and spiritually. Be clean, temperate, sober minded, and great souled.” As grown, experienced, and highly successful inventors, they responded: “Father — All the wine I have tasted since leaving home would not fill a single wine glass. I am sure that Orville and myself will do nothing that will disgrace the training we received from you and Mother.”

McCullough writes — “Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world. ‘But it isn’t true,’ Orville responded emphatically, ‘to say we had no special advantages . . . the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.’ ”

BUSINESS

McCullough records Wilbur’s thoughts on being in business in a letter to his brother Lorin in 1894:
“In business it is the aggressive man, who continually has his eye on his own interest, who succeeds. … There is nothing reprehensible in an aggressive disposition, so long as it is not carried to excess, for such men make the world and its affairs move. . . . I entirely agree that the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen. … We ought not to have been businessmen.”
In 1911, Wilbur wrote:
“When we think what we might have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time [fighting patent infringement suits] to experiments, we feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with men, and no one can direct his life entirely as he would choose.”

The Wrights never built, or even tried to build, an industrial empire as Ford or Edison or their Dayton neighbors John and Frank Patterson (National Cash Register) had done. The Wrights were intellectual men and women.

ENGINEERING

McCullough's book is quite light on technical discussions. But the Wrights' unique approach to technology development is the essence of who they were and why they were such successful engineers when others better funded, better educated, and better connected failed. For example, McCullough ignored the following examples.

Wilbur and Orville were superb engineers, though neither went beyond high school. They found by trial and error that the existing data held by the science of aeronautics was flawed even though its principles were generally correct. They zeroed in on weight, power, control, lift, and the propeller as the main technologies that had to be solved. What is so astounding is not just that they solved these technical problems and reduced them to practice, but that they did it in record time. In a matter of three years, they invented or reinvented virtually the whole field of aeronautics. For example, the wind tunnel had been invented thirty years before, but Wilbur and Orville developed it into a precise quantitative instrument. With it, they developed not just the wing configurations, but coupled with the understanding that a propeller is simply a wing on a rotating shaft, they rewrote the rules of propeller design and optimized its efficiency dramatically. These two men had an insight into, and a reverence for, quantitative empirical data that was unique in aeronautical engineering at that time.

McCullough shows how that reverence for truth (data) grew out of their family standards. But there was more to it than the principles of a strict Protestant upbringing. It also has to do with time and place. The late 1800s and early 1900s was a period of great minds applying the rules of The Enlightenment and the experience of science to practical problems. The place was an industrial axis, which was anchored by Dayton and Detroit and included Flint, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and many other cities in the Midwest. This is where Edison, Ford, Dow, Firestone, the Patterson Brothers, and the Wright Brothers lived and created their technologies. There was a culture of boundless innovation and an infrastructure that included materials and support equipment that fostered great invention. It was similar in many ways to Silicon Valley today.

REINFORCE THE NARRATIVE

Another area that could be strengthened in the book is its niche. There has been so much written about the Wrights that each new book needs to distinguish itself in some way with a different point of view, a new set of facts, or a fresh interpretation of old facts.

For example, McCullough writes — “In early 1889, while still in high school, Orville started his own print shop in the carriage shed behind the house, and apparently with no objections from the Bishop. Interested in printing for some while, Orville had worked for two summers as an apprentice at a local print shop. He designed and built his own press using a discarded tombstone, a buggy spring, and scrap metal.”

That last sentence about building his own printing press defines so much about Orville and his simple pragmatism. To reinforce that point requires some expansion of that event or similar other defining events in the lives of Wilbur and Orville. I wanted to read more about Orville's compulsive act of invention, but it wasn't there.

The 81 photos McCullough includes in his book are treasures. Many of them are familiar, but so many are new looks at the Wrights. I wish there were greatly expanded captions below each photo, for each one is a story in itself.

One source of knowledge about the Wrights’ approach to aeronautics is the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. It is normally overshadowed by the more popular Air and Space Museum in Washington, but the exhibits at the Air Force Museum walk you through the Wrights’ engineering exploits with a degree of detail and insight I have found nowhere else.
4

May 5, 2015

Lessons from the past, lessons for the future
David McCullough is one of the preeminent American historians of our times, the deft biographer of John Adams and Harry Truman, and in this book he brings his wonderful historical exposition and storytelling skills to the lives of the Wright brothers. So much is known about these men that they have been turned into legends. Legends they were but they were also human, and this is the quality that McCullough is best at showcasing in these pages. The book is a quick and fun read. If I have some minor reservations they are only in the lack of technical detail which could have informed descriptions of some of the Wrights' experiments and the slightly hagiographical tint that McCullough is known to bring to his subjects. I would also have appreciated some more insights into attempts that other people around the world were making in enabling powered flight. Nevertheless, this is after all a popular work, and popular history seldom gets better than under McCullough's pen.

The book shines in three aspects. Firstly McCullough who is quite certainly one of the best storytellers among all historians does a great job of giving us the details of the Wrights' upbringing and family. He drives home the importance of the Wrights' emphasis on simplicity, intellectual hunger and plain diligence, hard work and determination. The Wright brothers' father who was a Bishop filled the house with books and learning and never held back their intellectual curiosity. This led to an interest in tinkering in the best sense of the tradition, first with bicycles and then with airplanes. The Wrights' sister Katharine also played an integral part in their lives; they were very close to her and McCullough's account is filled with copious examples of the affectionate, sometimes scolding, always encouraging letters that the siblings wrote to each other. The Wrights' upbringing drives home the importance of family and emotional stability.

Secondly, McCullough also brings us the riveting details of their experiments with powered flight. He takes us from their selection of Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a flight venue through their struggles, both with the weather conditions and with the machinery. He tells us how the brothers were inspired by Otto Lillienthal, a brilliant German glider pilot who crashed to his death and by Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley. Chanute was a first-rate engineer who encouraged their efforts while Samuel Langley headed aviation efforts at the Smithsonian and was a rival. The Wrights' difficult life on the sand dunes - with "demon mosquitoes", 100 degree weather and wind storms - is described vividly. First they experimented with the glider, then consequentially with motors. Their successful and historic flight on December 17, 1903 was a testament to their sheer grit, bon homie and technical brilliance. A new age had dawned.

Lastly, McCullough does a fine job describing how the Wrights rose to world fame after their flight. The oddest part of the story concerns how they almost did not make it because institutions in their own country did not seem to care enough. They found a willing and enthusiastic customer in the French, perhaps the French had already embraced the spirit of aviation through their pioneering efforts in ballooning (in this context, Richard Holmes's book on the topic is definitely worth a read). Wilbur traveled to France, secured funding from individuals and the government and made experimental flights that were greeted with ecstatic acclaim. It was only when his star rose in France that America took him seriously. After that it was easier for him and Orville to secure army contracts and test more advanced designs. Throughout their efforts to get funding, improve their designs and tell the world what they had done, their own determined personalities and the support of their sister and family kept them going. While Wilbur died at the age of forty-five from typhoid fever, Orville lived until after World War 2 to witness the evolution of his revolutionary invention in all its glory and horror.

McCullough's account of the Wright brothers, as warm and fast-paced as it is, was most interesting to me for the lessons it holds for the future. The brothers were world-class amateurs, not professors at Ivy League universities or researchers in giant corporations. A similar attitude was demonstrated by the amateurs who built Silicon Valley, and that's also an attitude that's key to American innovation. The duo's relentless emphasis on trial and error - displayed to an almost fanatical extent by their compatriot Thomas Edison - is also an immortal lesson. But perhaps what the Wright brothers' story exemplifies the most is the importance of simple traits like devotion to family, hard work, intense intellectual curiosity and most importantly, the frontier, can-do attitude that has defined the American dream since its inception. It's not an easy ideal to hold on to, and as we move into the 21st century, we should always remember Wilbur and Orville who lived that ideal better than almost anyone else. David McCullough tells us how they did it.
4

May 10, 2015

The first photo of flight snapped by a man who was taking his first picture ever. The Wright brothers were very careful to document each stage of their development not only with photography, but also with journals.


”The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.” Wilbur and Orville Wright

They were brothers.

As close as two peas in a pod and you could make it three with Katharine, the little sister who also at times provided the The first photo of flight snapped by a man who was taking his first picture ever. The Wright brothers were very careful to document each stage of their development not only with photography, but also with journals.


”The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.” Wilbur and Orville Wright

They were brothers.

As close as two peas in a pod and you could make it three with Katharine, the little sister who also at times provided the role of mother and first wife to flight. (neither brother ever married) There were two older Wright children, both boys who lead fairly normal decent lives. They grew up in a more traditional home with the mother and the father, but by the time the three younger children came along their mother was not alive to raise them, and their parson father was travelling extensively trying to build up followings in churches all across the nation.

Orville dropped out of high school to start his own newspaper. Wilbur soon joined him. It became the first of many alliances between the brothers, though claiming not to be very good at business, their resume shows something quite different. Despite how close they were their devotion to one another was not always based on harmony.

”Wilbur...believed in ‘a good scrap’. It brought out ‘new ways of looking at things,’ helped ‘round off the corners.’ It was characteristic of all his family, Wilbur said, to be able to see the weak points of anything. This was not always a ‘desirable quality.’ he added, ‘as it makes us too conservative for successful business men, and limits our friendships to a limited circle.’”

If you have strong family ties your need for an extended circle of friends certainly diminishes. Sometimes family does not provide friendship and many of us have to find that solace elsewhere. As I always told my kids it is better to have one really good friend than an extended circle of “friends”. Those “friends” may believe that they are your friends, but I’ve found when the chips are down those “friends” suddenly become “acquaintances” and sometimes very distantly so.

The Wright Brothers may have fought vigorously with each other, but each was a sounding board for the other to clarify their thinking. A good battle would often have them getting together the next morning with each brother switching to the other’s opinion creating yet another skirmish as they tried to prove the other right.

When the bicycle craze began, the brothers were on the leading edge by opening the first shop in Dayton to repair those bicycles. It wasn’t long before they decided they could make a better bike and in the basement of their shop they started making bikes to order. They named them Van Cleve (launched 1896), after an illustrious ancestor of theirs who helped settle Ohio. They were successful business men yet again.

Wilbur first turned his thoughts to flight. He may have followed Orville’s lead into the printing business, but this time Orville was following after Wilbur. It was a true partnership and like the Paul McCartney and John Lennon alliance they took equal credit for all that they created.

First in flight was plural. They flew!


Orville on the left was always a bit more dapper than Wilbur on the right. Here they are on the Wright Flyer 1 in 1910.

I’m not going to go into the trials and tribulations that lead to the first powered, controlled flight of an airplane on December 17th, 1903. You’ll have to read the book to find out those details. I will say I was surprised at the length of the process. I thought that after 1903 they were lauded and celebrated, but it actually took much longer than that for the world to take notice of exactly what they accomplished. The French showed much more interest than the American government which was a source of disappointing to the Wright Brothers. I do wonder if H. G. Wells, with his creatively conceived books of the future, was already contributing to the French fascination with flight.

In a reversal of roles from what I expected the Americans were sceptical while the French felt that anything was possible.

It was interesting to me that the venerated Samuel P. Langley of the Smithsonian was competing with the Wright Brothers. He had raised over $70,000 in funds to build his airplane. The Wright Brothers in comparison spent $1,000 building their airplane using only funds raised from profits from their bicycle shop. We do not celebrate Langley as the first to fly so you might be able to ascertain that his expensive prototype did not fly. As the Wright’s heard about the progress of their competitors it never bothered them. They had a vision of where they had to get to and never wavered from their intended course or worried about whether someone else would fly first.

”It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and soul and all their energy into an idea and they had faith.”

They built a concept out of a garage before America even had garages. If Steve Jobs were alive today and had read this book he would certainly have identified with the ability of the Wright Brothers to take an idea and refuse to let it go. One thing we know is that all over World there are people tinkering in their basements, garages, and on their living room floors. They are taking wisps of ideas and turning them into reality. As they drive to work, as they sit at a desk at work, as they turn a bolt on an assembly line, they are dreaming about contributing something new to humanity.


Walking in tandem.

The Wright Brothers did become wealthy, but certainly not as wealthy as they could have if they had been showmen or if money had really been the be all and end all of learning how a man can fly. They were focused on the HOW, fame and fortune would take care of itself. I couldn’t help but admire them and be inspired by their bred in the bone entrepreneurship that took them from a printing press to a bicycle shop to conquering the sky.

”On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 flyer.”


To see all my book and movie reviews visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com ...more
5

Mar 09, 2016

"The Wright Brothers", by David McCullough, is FANTASTIC!!!
I was 'hooked' instantly listening to the audiobook! Soooooo Good!!!!!!

I was immediately inspired by Wilbur, Orville, and their family values. Their dad was a
Bishop. There mother may have been shy but was a gifted 'fix-it' woman. There wasn't anything around the house that broke, that she couldn't fix. Wilbur and Orville credit their mother for their engineering talents. Don't you love it that these terrific guys credit their 'mother' "The Wright Brothers", by David McCullough, is FANTASTIC!!!
I was 'hooked' instantly listening to the audiobook! Soooooo Good!!!!!!

I was immediately inspired by Wilbur, Orville, and their family values. Their dad was a
Bishop. There mother may have been shy but was a gifted 'fix-it' woman. There wasn't anything around the house that broke, that she couldn't fix. Wilbur and Orville credit their mother for their engineering talents. Don't you love it that these terrific guys credit their 'mother' for their creative curiosity and abilities?/!
Their father, a Bishop, encourage reading in their family. Go dad!
There wasn't indoor plumbing -- but there were many books in the house. If any of the children felt like staying home from school for a day, to stay home and read a book, it was alright with their father.
I couldn't get over the 'life-changing' story about Wilbur when he was smashed in the face with a hockey stick by a neighborhood bully.
Something about that story- ( his original plans for college changed instantly)...stayed with me (deeply), while engaged listening to the rest of this novel.

I'm soooo moved by these brothers and their accomplishments. This is seriously a fantastic book about two brothers - a sister - a mom - a dad - their integrity - from family - to business - their passions - their sense of humor - hard work - determination & dedication- - fascinating mechanics of aviation ( fly like birds), ...the historical moments were exciting.
The magnitude what they manifested....is miraculous.

I've been 'nutty-excited' about this book -- (a chatter-box to my friends) --for days!!!
Many details moved the hell out of me. ( and will move you too). Just think -- their work began in the little town on Kitty Hawk...( they slept in tents, shared a community with the mosquitos, and cooked their food over the open fire).

An outstanding enjoyable book about two brothers who became a world sensation. (with heart-connecting side stories)

As for the author,.....David McCullough, .... he is *Viva-la-TERRIFIC*!!!!!


...more
5

Jan 25, 2015

This is a gem of a book. McCullough is one of my favorite history writers, and I think The Wright Brothers is one of his best works.

Wilbur and Orville Wright make for a fascinating story. Born in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers were so clever and mechanically gifted that it seemed they could fix or create anything. They became interested in human flight at a young age after playing with a toy helicopter, made from just a stick and some rubber bands. The guys read everything they could about flight This is a gem of a book. McCullough is one of my favorite history writers, and I think The Wright Brothers is one of his best works.

Wilbur and Orville Wright make for a fascinating story. Born in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers were so clever and mechanically gifted that it seemed they could fix or create anything. They became interested in human flight at a young age after playing with a toy helicopter, made from just a stick and some rubber bands. The guys read everything they could about flight and they studied birds obsessively, understanding that birds had a natural design that should be emulated.

McCullough tells stories about the boys' childhood, their strong relationship with their father and sister, their early attempts at gliders and flying machines, those famous first flights in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and finally of their international fame and travels.

My favorite stories were about how intelligent and determined the brothers were. They never seemed to give up hope that they would one day solve the problem of human flight. They kept modifying and improving their flying machines, and even after several crashes, the brothers insisted on continuing to fly. They never seemed afraid to go up in the air.

McCullough had access to hundreds of letters and diaries from the Wright family, and those passages were especially illuminating and enjoyable. In the acknowledgments, McCullough praised the Library of Congress for its collection, and wrote: "In a day and age when, unfortunately, so few write letters or keep a diary any longer, the Wright Papers stand as a striking reminder of a time when that was not the way and of the immense value such writings can have in bringing history to life. Seldom ever did any of the Wrights — father, sons, daughter — put anything down on paper that was dull or pointless or poorly expressed. And much that they said to each other, and only to each other, was of great importance."

I knew little about the Wright brothers before reading this book, and now I'm so keen on them that I want to visit that famous beach in Kitty Hawk, and to see the museum that has their bicycle shop, which is where they did so much of their inventing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history or aviation.

Favorite Quotes
"From ancient times and into the Middle Ages, man had dreamed of taking to the sky, of soaring into the blue like the birds. One savant in Spain in the year 875 is known to have covered himself with feathers in the attempt. Others devised wings of their own design and jumped from rooftops and towers — some to their deaths — in Constantinople, Nuremberg, Perugia. Learned monks conceived schemes on paper. And starting about 1490, Leonardo da Vinci made the most serious studies. He felt predestined to study flight, he said, and related a childhood memory of a kite flying down onto his cradle."

"Orville's first teacher in grade school, Ida Palmer, would remember him at his desk tinkering with bits of wood. Asked what he was up to, he told her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother were going to fly someday."

"On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 flyer." ...more
4

Mar 31, 2015


I don't read a lot of non fiction , but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to read this book which tells the story of how two men changed the future. Having read David McCullough's John Adams, I knew that I would get an education at the very least .

Two of the chapter titles so aptly reflect what Wilbur and Orville Wright were all about - "The Dream Takes Hold" and "Unyielding Resolve". Their ingenuity, perseverance, thirst for understanding of the scientific aspects of a flying machine was
I don't read a lot of non fiction , but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to read this book which tells the story of how two men changed the future. Having read David McCullough's John Adams, I knew that I would get an education at the very least .

Two of the chapter titles so aptly reflect what Wilbur and Orville Wright were all about - "The Dream Takes Hold" and "Unyielding Resolve". Their ingenuity, perseverance, thirst for understanding of the scientific aspects of a flying machine was fascinating even I don't understand aerodynamics.

They were in the printing business and the bicycle business before their attempts to fly . They read books and pamphlets and studied birds and what others before them had attempted and worked on for years . "A friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could get ahead in the world." Orville responded "But it isn't true to say that we had no special advantages ...the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity."

What was missing for me was a little more of the personal . McCullough does give a glimpse of their childhoods and their family relationships with their father and sister and the encouragement, but it was hard for me to connect with them on that personal level. In spite of that, it was a compelling read to see their progress and ultimately what they achieved .


Those interested in life changing historical achievements , in aeronautics or are fans of David McCullough will enjoy this book. The meticulous research that is that hallmark of this great historian is evident in the numerous source notes and extensive bibliography .

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley. ...more
5

May 28, 2015

A beguiling tale of how a rather ordinary pair of brothers invented the first successful airplane and thereby changed history. A wonderfully told story with a lavish picture gallery that I think most readers could appreciate. It leaves you with the illusion that if you have enough persistence you might achieve personal ambitions of your own that could prove important. Yet they have some combination of the “right stuff” at the right time and the right place that appears to be quite special and A beguiling tale of how a rather ordinary pair of brothers invented the first successful airplane and thereby changed history. A wonderfully told story with a lavish picture gallery that I think most readers could appreciate. It leaves you with the illusion that if you have enough persistence you might achieve personal ambitions of your own that could prove important. Yet they have some combination of the “right stuff” at the right time and the right place that appears to be quite special and not easily replicated. McCullough does a great job in laying out these qualities and circumstances and conveys the wonder and magic that lies between the ingredients of a recipe and the kind of creation achieved by a master chef.

The setting of the Wrights’ origin is the industrial town of Dayton, Ohio, at the turn of the 20th century, which is blessed with a congenial combination of working and middle class families. Wilbur is 4 years older than Orville, but they are inseparable. Their father is a Protestant minister who takes over the management and editing of a national newsletter of the denomination. Their mother dies when they are young, leaving their older sister Kathleen to run the household. The family environment was very supportive of the brothers to fulfill whatever life they might seek. Calvinist moral principles of hard work, humility, and modesty prevailed, but strong expectations about religious practice were not enforced. Wilbur was accomplished in math and science in high school and might have gone to Yale if he hadn’t gotten laid up for a long time by a hockey injury. Orville was more playful and less studious, but he had ambition enough to start a local newspaper after high school. When that failed, he and Orville start a bicycle repair shop which advances to a small production operation. Kathleen goes to Oberlin and takes a position as a high school Latin teacher after she returns to the household.


Orville and Wilbur, inseparable as twins

Wilbur plants the seeds of their journey by sending away to the Smithsonian Institute for literature and resources about the science of flying and history of attempts at human flight. He was always fascinated by nature and curious about the methods by which birds achieve that capability. Their new hobby becomes fooling around making kites and gliders just for fun. Orville is engineer enough to conceive of a mechanism to change the shape of the wings and thus control lift. He seeks a setting where they have steady winds and a flat place without trees for safe testing of their evolving glider models. That’s how they ended up setting up a summer camp at Kitty Hawk on a sandy island of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Their limited financial resources and the challenges of weather, mosquitoes, and remoteness of the setting called for much sacrifice to attend to their obsession. Only a few members of the remote fishing community witnessed their early successes with gliders in 1990 and 1901. Orville’s correspondence with another enthusiast, Octave Chanute, a civil engineer in Michigan successful in hang-glider innovations, led to an invitation to give a presentation of their glider work at an engineering society in Chicago, which was the first step to outside knowledge of what they were beginning to achieve.

The instabilities in control their craft made Orville lament that they were 1,000 years from safe controlled flight. Their designs were hampered by inaccuracies in the equations to predict lift and drag. Orville led extensive efforts back in Ohio to use a homemade wind tunnel to make measures for various wing shapes, which led to better wing designs. With the added invention of the first moveable vertical rudder they achieved controlled glider flight (i.e. with turns and landings) in 1902, and, in 1903, with the addition of a motor and primitive props they accomplished the first well controlled flight of fixed-wing motorized airplane. Lateral roll was controlled by wing-warping, pitch (up and down motion) by a forward elevator, yaw (side to side)by the rear rudder. That sounds so fast, but it belies the thousands of launches they made, numerous failures and modifications, and occasional disastrous and costly crashes. They lucked out in having access to a gifted mechanic in their bicycle shop, Charlie Taylor, who devised and machined a lightweight gasoline engine to power their craft.


Controlled glider flights like this one by Wilbur at Kitty Hawk in 1902 represented the big breakthrough in airplane development. I am impressed with the craft's elegant design.

Somehow they took a licking and kept on ticking. Their particular teamwork in thinking seems to have been critical for their successful problem solving, the way they challenged each other, thrashed out positions in argument, then ended up persuading each other to move toward alternative viewpoints. The special skills they developed as pilots was almost as important as the technology for their long range success. That the two remained bachelors, a mystery in itself, contributed to their long range focus. Media coverage was minor, and the world at large remained ignorant of the milestones they made. Their 1903 patent application was rejected. McCullough provides tantalizing clues to their amazing perseverance:

What the two had in common above all was a unity of purpose and unyielding determination. They had set themselves on a “mission.”

“The strongest impression on gets of Wilbur Wright,” an old schoolmate said, “is of a man who lives largely in a world on his own.”

Wilbur also, it was agreed, had “unusual presence”, and remained imperturbable under almost any circumstance, “never rattled,” his father was proud to say.

All this is only half the story. McCullough’s narrative makes an equally fascinating tale out of the years of effort it took the Wright brothers to create and demonstrate practical models, garner widespread appreciation and understanding of their accomplishment, and attract financing for commercial production. In a field outside Dayton, accessible by trolley car, they devised a derrick catapault and tested models that could accommodate a sitting pilot instead a supine one, turn in good control, and stay aloft as long as fuel permitted. Lots of people came to witness their feats, but what little local media coverage they got was distorted, and their success was disbelieved by the authorities that counted. The first accurate accounts were made by a beekeeper they befriended in his column in “Gleanings in Bee Culture.” Meanwhile, other aviation pioneers had some disastrous failures, including a killing crash by a French glider innovator and well publicized crash of an expensive, publicly funded attempt by the Smithsonian Institute on the Potomac River.

The Wright’s tried and failed to get the U.S. Department of War interested in a demonstration and sale but succeeded with government and private industry representatives in France. McCullough creates a great perspective for abstemious Wilbur travelling in style to France by a Cunard line ship, a stay at a first class hotel in Paris, and presentation of a convincing business case to investors and government military representatives. Though shy and prone to avoid public speaking, he was amazing in his articulateness and capabilities in expressing himself in writing. Money, power, and class did not impress him as much as competence and honesty. A hefty offer of a sale was rendered pending successful demonstration that met certain performance standards. However, the official aviation club snubbed him and cast doubt and insults in the media.

Orville remains quite a cipher as state of mind and feelings in this period can only be read between the lines in his terse letters home. McCullough, who has written another book about the charms of Paris, spends some time reflecting on his choices for leisure activities while there. Instead of monuments, festivals, night clubs, it is the gardens, opera, church architecture, and art museums which he most appreciated. A bit of a surprise to some for this provincial small businessman with a high-school education. He succeeds in securing a racetrack in Le Mans for a demonstration site, but he has to do a lot of engineering to repair and replace the plane after it arrives terribly damaged in its shipment. The demonstration amazed thousands and garnered full accolades from world media and the doubtful community of aviation peers and competitors. Orville initiated a parallel process of demonstrations at Ft. Myers, Virginia. Despite overall success, a prop failure led to a terrible crash which crippled him and killed a lieutenant assigned as passenger on the flight.

After the family recovered from the disaster, more demonstrations in France, England, and Germany were pursued, a patent was awarded in 1906, and many lucrative contracts ensued. Ideas for use of planes grew fast, with postal delivery and military reconnaissance among the first. The dream of humans conquering the flight of birds was fulfilled, and the harnessing of air travel for innumerable benefits was at hand. An uplifting and human story told well. Kind of makes one proud to be human and to appreciate the American capacity for ingenuity.
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5

Aug 08, 2016

How did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb book, "The Wright Brothers". Wilbur and Orville grew up in a family that loved learning. They were also very intelligent, focused, persistent, and hard working. The brothers owned a bicycle shop, possessed exceptional mechanical ability, and designed their own bicycles. They were interested in flight, and gazed at birds for hours to study how wings How did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb book, "The Wright Brothers". Wilbur and Orville grew up in a family that loved learning. They were also very intelligent, focused, persistent, and hard working. The brothers owned a bicycle shop, possessed exceptional mechanical ability, and designed their own bicycles. They were interested in flight, and gazed at birds for hours to study how wings were tilted to catch the air before they set up their first experiments. They had caught the spirit of invention that was prevalent in America at the turn of the century.

In 1900, they flew their first glider which was funded from sales of their bicycles. In 1903, the first motorized plane carrying a pilot was flown on the sandy Outer Banks of North Carolina. The brothers not only built the plane, but also had to build a shed for storage and housing, and dig a well to obtain fresh water. They faced dark swarms of mosquitoes, sandstorms, and freezing temperatures in the Outer Banks. They risked their lives, and Orville was seriously injured in 1908. France was the first country to embrace the Wright brothers, and a good portion of the book is about their work there.

The book includes many photographs, and quotes from letters from the brothers to family and others. In addition to being a good historian, author David McCullough is also an exciting storyteller. He really brought the personalities and endeavors of the Wright brothers alive for the reader. ...more
4

Nov 10, 2015

"Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world. 'But it isn't true' Orville responded emphatically, 'to say we had no special advantages .... the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.'"

Growing up, aviation was pretty much everywhere I looked. My father was a pilot, my mother had been an "Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world. 'But it isn't true' Orville responded emphatically, 'to say we had no special advantages .... the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.'"

Growing up, aviation was pretty much everywhere I looked. My father was a pilot, my mother had been an Airline “Hostess” prior to their marriage, within the small two-block neighborhood we lived in were many other pilot families. I had heard discussions about the Wright Brothers often enough throughout my childhood.

Although many years from being born, let alone old enough to fly when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903, my father recognized their place in aviation history, their place in his history. While we did attend church on Sundays, the real church in our lives was the church of flight. I thought I had heard all, or at least most, of the stories to be told.

“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough tells their story, two brothers who looked for the way around every roadblock instead of stopping. McCullough has written an interesting and inspirational biography of the Wright Brothers, including family, with an emphasis on their belief that simplicity, intellectual curiosity, drive and determination were core values that should be instilled at a very young age.
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4

Feb 09, 2018

I hate to admit it but I never knew much about the Wright brothers beyond the basic story of their invention of the "flying machine". Now that I have finished this well done biography by one of my favorite historians, it appears that there wasn't much to know about them in the first place. Their whole lives were dedicated to the premise that man could fly and that they were going to find the secret. They had very few friends, no lady friends, no hobbies, were secretive, shy, and as close as I hate to admit it but I never knew much about the Wright brothers beyond the basic story of their invention of the "flying machine". Now that I have finished this well done biography by one of my favorite historians, it appears that there wasn't much to know about them in the first place. Their whole lives were dedicated to the premise that man could fly and that they were going to find the secret. They had very few friends, no lady friends, no hobbies, were secretive, shy, and as close as identical twins. Their great talent was mechanical and they started with bicycles. Once they built the best bicycles on the road, they turned their eyes to the idea of flight. And history began.

Man had flown in hot air balloons but this was not what Orville and Wilbur were trying to achieve.....they wanted a machine driven by an engine that could be controlled by the operator and could perform turns, dips, fly at different altitudes and speeds and land safely. They looked for the perfect place to work in isolation and that had the geographic features necessary for their project. They decided on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in those days a practically deserted area of the United States, and built their workshop. Their work ethic was almost supernatural and errors and accidents were quickly overcome as their determination grew. And on December, 17, 1903, Orville Wright and his Flyer 1 took to the air. He only flew 120 feet in 12 seconds but it was a turning point in history.

The book follows the perfecting of the flying machine, the world-wide acclaim of the Wright brothers and their invention, and the aviation work of others such as Glenn Curtiss and Louis Bléroit (which often resulted in legal suits over patents). This is a short book, especially for one written by McCullough, but it covers in detail the work and dedication of the Wright brothers which changed the world. But you will not find out much about the brothers themselves since there isn't much to know....their lives were aviation and all else was just incidental. Recommended. ...more
4

Apr 21, 2015

What You Get is Very Good, But I Wanted More

Another very good book by David McCullough. I have yet to read a book by this author that doesn't make history fascinating.

Aeronautics isn't a topic that draws me, but McCullough had me thinking about the miracle of flying. He had me observing birds with a different eye.

This is a relatively short book. That covered is that which a "normal reader" will want to know. There isn't a whole lot about the Wright Brothers' childhood, neither the patent What You Get is Very Good, But I Wanted More

Another very good book by David McCullough. I have yet to read a book by this author that doesn't make history fascinating.

Aeronautics isn't a topic that draws me, but McCullough had me thinking about the miracle of flying. He had me observing birds with a different eye.

This is a relatively short book. That covered is that which a "normal reader" will want to know. There isn't a whole lot about the Wright Brothers' childhood, neither the patent lawsuits that arose after their accomplishment was a fact. The central focus is the years between 1899 and 1912, and how they came to be the first to ever fly. 1912 was the year of Wilbur’s death, and I am not going to tell you more about that. The book briefly skims major life events of all family members through to their respective deaths. Orville died in 1948. The wide scope of advancements in aeronautics is scarcely even mentioned. The focus is Orville and Wilbur's flying achievement. You get a detailed picture of their world - in Dayton, Ohio, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and in Paris and Les Mans and Pau, France. Wilbur spent almost an entire year in France. In 1903 the brothers had flown and by 1906 the sale of the airplane had begun. What the book well draws is the excitement and incredulity of man being able to fly, and it looks at how these two brothers did this. The two brothers are, in my view exceptional people, not really for what they achieved but for their steadfastness, their determination and hard work. Both had only a high school education and they financed their work on the sales from their bicycle company! They were not backed by big money! Others were, and they failed. For me the book imparted a clear picture of the personality of the two brothers, their father and their younger sister Katherine. She too was part of their team. I appreciated that McCullough took the time to elucidate her role.

I very much enjoyed the quotes from the brothers’ letters and speeches. I loved Wilbur’s heartfelt response to his reception in France. I loved the small details describing people; sometimes it is the unbuttoned button of a jacket or a shamrock in a buttonhole. McCullough’s works are not just well researched but that which is put there in the book is interesting. He doesn’t throw too much at you; he sifts through what is important, relevant and amusing, so you see the people and the times.

BUT…..I close the book with some questions. I want to know more about Wilbur's, Orville's and Katherine's childhood years, and more about their older siblings. I want to know more about the split between Orville and Katherine after her marriage in 1926 with Henry Joseph Haskell. I want to know how it came to be that the children were not religious; their father, Milton, was a Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. What the book gave me was very good, but I would have been pleased with more, more biographical details. I wonder if some of the less complimentary personal characteristics are not here?!The emphasis is on their flying achievement. I do though have a mania for biographical details. You might be satisfied with a little bit less rather than more!

The author narrates his own book. I liked the narration, because it is very slow. That may not please others. Sometimes he mumbles a bit, but heck I understood. I could feel when he wanted to emphasize the importance of an event. You could almost hear the thought, "Hey, pay attention!" I felt he wanted to give me time to absorb all the details and the importance of what was being said. So, I personally liked the narration very much.
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4

Nov 18, 2015

This is an excellent book about the inventors of the airplane. David McCullough is a great admirer of the Wright Brothers. He mentions, over and over again, how passionate and single-minded they were. They focused on their purpose; to develop the science of aeronautics to the point where flight would become possible. They worked very very hard, all day long, under less-than-optimal conditions. I did not realize that for a few years they flew only gliders at Kitty Hawk, before attempting to use This is an excellent book about the inventors of the airplane. David McCullough is a great admirer of the Wright Brothers. He mentions, over and over again, how passionate and single-minded they were. They focused on their purpose; to develop the science of aeronautics to the point where flight would become possible. They worked very very hard, all day long, under less-than-optimal conditions. I did not realize that for a few years they flew only gliders at Kitty Hawk, before attempting to use an engine for powered flight.

Both of the Wright Brothers were detail-oriented. They had to be, because the alternative would have been failure or worse; fatal. When they gave demonstrations of their inventions, they did not give any thought about the celebrities or leaders in the spectator stands; if conditions were unfavorable, they would just pack the airplane back into the hangar, and wait for more favorable winds.

Wilbur was a true Renaissance genius. He had a broad range of knowledge about virtually every subject. And Orville was mechanically brilliant. Over the course of several years, the two of them developed the science and their inventions; living for months at a time under primitive conditions at Kitty Hawk, their activities and materials cost them a total of about one thousand dollars. They did not really care about fame or fortune. They did, however, care that they receive proper credit as the inventors of the airplane, and protected their interests through patent lawsuits. The book also discusses their sister Katherine, who was indispensable to their journey.

Their flights were risky; any number of components could malfunction, leading to a crash. They were reluctant to take passengers who were national leaders. In fact, they were reluctant to fly together, lest a crash would kill them both without someone to carry on their work.

After reading this book, it is hard not to be extremely respectful of the amazing dedication of the Wright Brothers. David McCullough has done an excellent job of helping us understand the brothers and their family. I listened to this book as an audiobook; the author is the narrator, which is a bit unfortunate. He is not a bad narrator, but he does not bring a polish to the reading, either.

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5

Dec 01, 2016

I loved this book. I was completely oblivious about the amazing lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright. This book should be required reading for every high school student in the US.
4

Dec 20, 2016

"On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in Southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright Brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 Flyer."

This was a very thorough bio of Orville and Wilbur, read by the author, the incomparable David McCullough. Their story is already well known if you studied them at all in school, but McCullough was able to add some dimension to the brothers and to their family "On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in Southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright Brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 Flyer."

This was a very thorough bio of Orville and Wilbur, read by the author, the incomparable David McCullough. Their story is already well known if you studied them at all in school, but McCullough was able to add some dimension to the brothers and to their family members and those who had any effect on them in their years in business. I'm not a big fan of bios or non-fiction, so this was a bit dry in parts; but it made me realize what great, honest men they were, how hard they worked for all they achieved, and how well-deserved that 1969 tribute to them on the moon was. ...more
5

Apr 23, 2015

He’s still got it. David McCullough, a favorite for many of us, weaves another powerful tale. I’ll confess in my looking forward to his next book that I was disappointed when I saw the press clippings for it some months ago. I wanted another John Adams or 1776. I don’t feel that way after actually reading the book. In the hands of this master writer, we learn both how important and interesting were Wilbur and Orville and how revolutionary flying was when they brought it about. I don’t believe He’s still got it. David McCullough, a favorite for many of us, weaves another powerful tale. I’ll confess in my looking forward to his next book that I was disappointed when I saw the press clippings for it some months ago. I wanted another John Adams or 1776. I don’t feel that way after actually reading the book. In the hands of this master writer, we learn both how important and interesting were Wilbur and Orville and how revolutionary flying was when they brought it about. I don’t believe anything in my lifetime has equaled taking to the skies in the early 1900s.

Wilbur and Orville were unique. Never showing any interest in getting married, never afraid to go their own way no matter what anyone else thought, and never deviating from the raising of their preacher father, they do not fit the common mold. Dismiss out of hand any comments that the characterizations here are one-dimensional. The Wright brothers simply do not fit the modern mold especially. Mr. McCullough obviously felt no need to manufacture some speculations that tantalize our generation. He just gave us the Wright brothers as they were. I enjoyed getting to know them and have nothing but respect for them. The saw the prize out ahead of them and never rested till they had it.

The setbacks, the hardships (Kitty Hawk was not pleasant then), the secrecy when fame was dangling in front of them, the danger, the crashes, the occasional family drama but unwavering devotion–the story never sags. The competition with others trying to get the title of first to truly fly was always part or the story. The initial reluctance of the U.S. to show interest while France was ready to embrace them is interestingly portrayed. You admired the brilliance of these amateur mechanics as you read and are amazed at the mathematical and scientific ground they covered in their relentless research.

This volume can proudly take its place on the hollowed bookshelf of Mr. McCullough’s writings. Another piece of our history is now preserved with distinction.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
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3

July 21, 2015

I am not saying doing an explanation would be easy I am just trying to show how without it ...
The writing is well done and I appreciate the added insights on the personal side, but as an engineer there are certain parts of the story that simply have to be told to really appreciate what they did. He does touch on some of it but are we not owed:
1. an explanation of their discovering the basic errors in atmospheric density at sea level.
2. the setup of the wind tunnels that allowed them to show most aerodynamic data was incorrect.
3. the explanation as they arrived at it of the interaction between roll and yaw and pitch in turning an aircraft.
4. the mathematics involved in the first derivation of how a propeller works.
5. a contrast between the first three and last fourth of the first flights.
The point is these guys did things that are worthy of Noble prizes and risked their lives in the process and succeeded at minimum costs, and the author touches on that well when he describes C. Taylor's feelings he was watching them risk their lives on every flight at Hoffman Prairie, but you can't really appreciate why that is necessary without a deeper grounding in the technical as well as the human side. I am not saying doing an explanation would be easy I am just trying to show how without it the story is simply not grounded in the wondrous accomplishments that make it so wondrous. Their discovery is in every airline flying today and that needs to be shown not simply celebrated.

Again I appreciate the personal side but the hard work of explanation of how and why so important is missing.
4

Sep 30, 2015

In my opinion Mr. McCullough has once again delivered a solidly researched and very readable look at an important figure, or in this case figures, in US history. In his look at the Wright Brothers, the author basically focuses on the 15 years between 1895 and 1910. These are the years of the brothers developed an interest in flight, proved their concepts, and then concluded a very successful tour of Europe, demonstrating their mastery of the air.

In telling their story, Mr. McCullough also looks In my opinion Mr. McCullough has once again delivered a solidly researched and very readable look at an important figure, or in this case figures, in US history. In his look at the Wright Brothers, the author basically focuses on the 15 years between 1895 and 1910. These are the years of the brothers developed an interest in flight, proved their concepts, and then concluded a very successful tour of Europe, demonstrating their mastery of the air.

In telling their story, Mr. McCullough also looks at their close family ties, especially with their sister Katherine. As lifelong bachelors, she basically ran their home life and lived with them until her marriage quite late in life. After the marriage Orville refused to have anything more to do with her and even refused to attend the ceremony. Their relationship with their father is also explored, although not to the same extent as with their sister. However personal stories are a very minor portion of the book.

The main focus is their invention of powered flight and its aftermath in their lives. In fact the story of the first heavier than air powered flight actually comes quite early in the narrative, about 1/3rd mark. Their selection of Kitty Hawk for their experiments is explained and the fact that at the time of the first flight was the brothers 4th annual trip to the site. Each year they brought an improved glider to test the control system among other things. I found the story of Wilber’s first trip interesting. It was a 2 day trip by a broken down sailing ship and he was seasick most of the way. Another example of their resourcefulness is the story of the development of the engine for their first airplane. The put out a Request for Proposal for an engine and didn’t get any satisfactory responses. So with the help of one of their employees at their bicycle factory, they designed and built their own.

In telling the story of the invention of powered flight, Mr. McCullough illustrates the methodical way the Wrights worked. While both were high school drop outs, they were mechanically gifted and have a good grasp of mechanical principles. Their study of birds and how they controlled their flight led to their development if wing warping. He also mentions their development of a homemade wind tunnel to test the wing designs.

In additions to the Wrights, the author also looks at who was doing what in the race for powered flight. He does a pretty good job of telling Samuel Langley’s story. According to the author he was the Wrights main completion for the title of the first man to make a powered flight.

The reaction to the news of the first flight was enlightening – almost none. When they wrote to the US Gov’t, the reaction seemed to be, “That’s nice. Prove it.” It seems it took a few months and some demonstration flights in Dayton for the news to sink in.

The last portion of the book covers the Brother’s trips to Europe in 1908, 1910 on what were basically business trips. They were trying to interest European Gov’ts and esp their militaries in their invention. The author does a good job of telling the enthusiastic reception they received, both in England and in France.

While they were relatively successful, they didn’t become wealthy. Mr. McCullough states that when he died in 1912 Wilbur left an estate of appox $120,000 and when Orville died in 1948 his estate was valued at just over $1 million. As Mr. McCullough says, they were well-to-do, but not really wealthy.

All in all a very solid read, but not extensive. At just over 260 pages there is a lot left unsaid and for this reason I “only” rated 4 stars on Good Reads.
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5

May 08, 2015

Wilbur and Orville Wright are often characterized as bicycle mechanics who managed to launch the first piloted aircraft and fly it for a few hundred feet at Kitty Hawk. As McCullough documents, the Wright brothers were first class scientists and engineers who accomplished a feat which was believed to be impossible.

David McCullough, who authored on of the great engineering works of all time The Brooklyn Bridge, carefully documents the life and works of the two brothers from Dayton. He credits Wilbur and Orville Wright are often characterized as bicycle mechanics who managed to launch the first piloted aircraft and fly it for a few hundred feet at Kitty Hawk. As McCullough documents, the Wright brothers were first class scientists and engineers who accomplished a feat which was believed to be impossible.

David McCullough, who authored on of the great engineering works of all time The Brooklyn Bridge, carefully documents the life and works of the two brothers from Dayton. He credits those whose work inspired them and details how the brothers studied those materials, the flight of birds, and ended up inventing the wind tunnel to get accurate data. He explains the reluctance of the press and governments around the world to believe that manned flight had been achieved by these men. And then he shows how that all changed with the world becoming aware of these accomplishments.

The Wrights financed their own endeavors without governmental or corporate support. When you consider that the Army had invested huge sums, greatly in excess of the Wright's total investment, this thriftiness is all the more remarkable.

No matter what you will come away with a deep appreciation of the first men to fly. ...more
5

Apr 02, 2017

This was the first book of David McCullough I read, and I am now a devoted fan. His writing is clear and direct, yet he respects his readers by not talking down or attempting to be amusing. He gives sufficient detail without getting boring. I would have likes slightly more background information about the cultural context of the age and other characters, such as Lilienthal, Chanute, Flint, Curtiss, and a few others, but I appreciated that the book was not too lengthy. Richard Rhodes does this This was the first book of David McCullough I read, and I am now a devoted fan. His writing is clear and direct, yet he respects his readers by not talking down or attempting to be amusing. He gives sufficient detail without getting boring. I would have likes slightly more background information about the cultural context of the age and other characters, such as Lilienthal, Chanute, Flint, Curtiss, and a few others, but I appreciated that the book was not too lengthy. Richard Rhodes does this effectively in The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but that is a hard act to follow, and honestly, that book was too long. I also liked that McCullough is very transparent about his sources and makes it clear when he’s quoting letters, articles, and so on. The pictures were also nicely chosen. Overall, this is historical non-fiction as it should be done, and I will definitely be reading his other books. ...more
4

Jun 08, 2016

Amazing story of Orville and Wilbur Wright's intrepid efforts to create human flight. Their creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, and thirst for knowledge and understanding was truly remarkable, starting with a letter to the Smithsonian asking for references and their intense study of birds.

McCullough's research is impeccable, from their bicycle designs to their efforts to find the ideal location for testing (desolate, windy Kitty Hawk), following their triumphs and setbacks, having to find Amazing story of Orville and Wilbur Wright's intrepid efforts to create human flight. Their creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, and thirst for knowledge and understanding was truly remarkable, starting with a letter to the Smithsonian asking for references and their intense study of birds.

McCullough's research is impeccable, from their bicycle designs to their efforts to find the ideal location for testing (desolate, windy Kitty Hawk), following their triumphs and setbacks, having to find support overseas as the U.S. thought others had a better chance to succeed. Their single-mindedness and dedication is nicely supplemented by stories of string friendships wherever they went.

Parts of the story were a bit dry or slow, which is why I did not give 5 stars. ...more
5

Jan 18, 2019

A piece of the first plane flown by Wilbur Wright was left on the lunar surface by Neal Armstrong in 1968 to honor the maiden motor driven flight of 1903. From the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the moon in 65 years. Amazing!
4

Jun 09, 2019

“On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 Flyer.”

David McCullough is the greatest living American historian. His books are wholesome, enjoyable, and make one swell with pride over the stories of America. “The Wright Brothers” is a testament to the brothers who changed the world for the better by becoming the “On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 Flyer.”

David McCullough is the greatest living American historian. His books are wholesome, enjoyable, and make one swell with pride over the stories of America. “The Wright Brothers” is a testament to the brothers who changed the world for the better by becoming the first men to construct and fly an airplane.

They were sons of a preacher and owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They were in every way average citizens in a very average part of the country, but they had drive and determination to fly. The government funded Smithsonian project failed while the brothers, who spent a fraction of the cost and used their own savings, accomplished what the bigwigs could not.

Neither ever married and both refused to work on the sabbath. Neither drank, smoked, or gambled. They failed many times and were both nearly killed on at least one occasion. They camped out in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, far away from home and in horrid conditions, and finally accomplished what no one had done before in December 1903, and they changed the world, becoming heroes.

This is a great American story. The Wright Brothers are a great example of the American dream and the beauty of American progress. If you leave people alone and to their own devices, great things will be accomplished. Sixty-six years after the first flight, we put a man on the moon. Think about how fast technology advanced because of these brave men, who risked everything and made the world a better place. ...more
5

Jul 20, 2015

I haven't read nearly enough of David McCullough's books. This is my second and I loved it.

The story of the Wright Brothers is as fascinating as it is incredible. From this book I learned that they were hard working men and SO determined. Never did they give up-despite the failure of numerous tests. Neither did they ever become anyone's pawn-they refused many offers of financial backing. Even though there were times when I'm sure they could have used it, they preferred to remain independent. I haven't read nearly enough of David McCullough's books. This is my second and I loved it.

The story of the Wright Brothers is as fascinating as it is incredible. From this book I learned that they were hard working men and SO determined. Never did they give up-despite the failure of numerous tests. Neither did they ever become anyone's pawn-they refused many offers of financial backing. Even though there were times when I'm sure they could have used it, they preferred to remain independent. They may have been disturbed at times by newspapers and various magazines that described them as crazy and wasting their time, but they paid no heed. They camped out, in tents and outbuildings when performing their aerial testing-often coming close to running out of food. They were attacked by mosquitoes-once so severely they almost gave up and went home.

I think the trait that stuck with me the most was their humility. In much the same way that they ignored the doubters and naysayers, they also ignored those who wanted to put them on pedestals. They always kept their heads down and their eyes on the ball.

From their interesting family life, to their bicycle shop and all of their various ups and downs, I found the Wright Brothers to be interesting and amazing examples of American entrepreneurship. I find myself inspired by their story and proud to be from a country that could inspire men to such greatness.

I recommend this book to anyone even slightly interested in learning more about the Wright Brothers. I checked out the audio book from the library since I loved McCullough's John Adams so much, and I am so pleased that I did. This was an interesting and fun journey and I can't wait to read or listen to more of McCullough's works in the future.

My highest recommendation! ...more
5

Sep 01, 2016

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't have a particular interest in aeronautics so am hazy on any details of the subject.
I found the Wright brothers to be a delightful duo and their family to be solid and interesting. The brothers had an unconventional upbringing in that they were allowed to follow their interests and encouraged in their endeavours. They were such a solid, down-to-earth family as well. It was really nice to read about a family that supported each other.
The brothers were I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't have a particular interest in aeronautics so am hazy on any details of the subject.
I found the Wright brothers to be a delightful duo and their family to be solid and interesting. The brothers had an unconventional upbringing in that they were allowed to follow their interests and encouraged in their endeavours. They were such a solid, down-to-earth family as well. It was really nice to read about a family that supported each other.
The brothers were genius. They must have been. Without specialized education or funding, they made the most marvelous invention. Everything about aeronautics was unknown. What they discovered over the course of about 10 years was amazing.
This book covers the years of about 1900-1912. McCullough tells a story with detail and interest. This story reads easily, like a novel.
I started by listening to the book on audio, which is narrated by the author. I really enjoyed his rendition and tone. This story lends itself really well for the audio format. I listened to 1/3 of the book in this format.
However, I only listen during my commutes and went on vacation. I wanted to continue so much that I picked up the print book. It was also an good experience. The writing style makes for an interesting read and the pictures are a fun addition. ...more
5

Jul 25, 2018

Excellent biography of Wright's brother - interesting to read after recent visit to Washington Smithsonian Air and Space museum.

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