The Wright Brothers Book Review
By Kay Stepp
What can one do with intellectual curiosity, single focus determination, courage, stamina and self-sacrifice? You can change the world. This is the overriding conclusion one draws from reading The Wright Brothers, written by two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough (Simon and Schuster, 2015).
Wilbur and Orville Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, are the iconic American success story. Born to a preacher and his wife who had three other children, the brothers had minimal formal education but their parents encouraged reading, intellectual interests and curiosity. Wilbur, an avid reader, was the genius of the two who had a vision of man in flight from his study of birds. Orville was a mechanical wizard who made Wilbur’s vision reality. Together they formed a partnership from childhood on. They never married, forming an allegiance to one another and their mission to fly. Other members of the family, namely their father, a bishop, their mother and their sister Katherine played important roles in the brothers’ development and eventual success, caring for and encouraging them through difficult times.
When the brothers began their pursuit of man in flight, they were proprietors of a bicycle shop in Dayton. Their earnings from the bicycle shop financed their costly experiments. Not until they demonstrated the soundness of their flying machines in France, years after beginning their quest, did the brothers receive some small payment for their inventions. They suffered setbacks, public ridicule, rejection by the US Government, personal injuries, and near death experiences, but they never wavered in pursuit of their goal.
McCullough draws on what seems to be an extraordinary collection of private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell their story. He takes what, for me, was a one dimensional story of that day in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when they took the first flight, to a three dimensional story of two men dedicated to making something happen that had never been done before. Further, their story is set in the turn of the 20th century, a period of rapid technological change and new global awareness – a fascinating time that McCullough has written about in previous books.
One finishes The Wright Brothers with a deep appreciation for these two humble men who epitomized the American spirit and who changed the course of history by making it possible for man to fly.