I just finished David McCullough’s latest book, The Wright Brothers, and it is such an amazing book that I suspect another Pulitzer Prize will be coming McCullough’s way very shortly.
One literary critic once said that David McCullough was “incapable of writing a bad page of prose” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find anything he has written that isn’t pure gold. The Wright Brothers is no exception.
In this wonderful book, McCullough chronicles the lives of the Wright brothers as they discover the keys to heavier-than-air flight. Along the way the reader gets to meet the entire Wright family including their preacher father, known as the Bishop, and their sister, Katherine, who had a huge role to play in lives of her famous brothers.
Due to the amazing written record left behind by the Orville, Wilbur, Katherine, and the Bishop — in the form of countless letters and journal entries — we get a vivid and fully realized picture of all the trials and triumphs the Wrights faced as they proceeded to do that which had never been done in the history of mankind.
McCullough is absolutely masterful as he uses these source materials to bring to life the amazing relationships the brothers had with each other, their sister, and their father. As their story progresses it becomes quite clear that these relationships played a significant role in providing the foundation from which all the hard work necessary to discover the principles of human flight was made possible.
McCullough has a way of transporting the reader into the lives of those he chronicles. As such, one finds oneself cheering for this family as the brothers recover from one set back after another. Then, one also completely relishes the moment with the brothers as they ultimately triumph. When, at last, they are able to go public with their discoveries the elation of that moment is truly felt by the reader.
More than just a timeline of the mechanical discoveries of flight, this book underscores the tenacity required by the brothers to achieve their dream of human flight.
It is remarkable to think of these brothers — with limited educations and no outside funding — working in back of their bicycle shop inventing wing warping, devising new wind-tunnel tests, creating new innovative wing designs, rewriting all the inaccurate formulas of the day that pertained to flight and lift, producing the world’s first light-weight aluminum engine, and ultimately creating both a glider and powered airplane. And, they did all this while living in a home with no electricity or running water.
As much as this book is about the discovery of flight, it’s also about hard work, family support, persistence, and grit. These brothers will inspire you as they keep going, and keep their cool, even in the face of huge setbacks, bodily harm, financial worries, and — possibly most damaging — public mockery and ridicule.
These men, with the amazing support of their sister Katherine, simply did their work, kept their word, remained civil, did the impossible, and changed the world forever.
The story and all the details surrounding it are truly remarkable. I wont give away anything here that might kill the suspense McCullough artfully creates in the book but the response, or lack of response, to the brother’s discovery and early powered flights is astounding and at times heartbreaking. At the same time, there are several key moments in the book, when the brothers are vindicated or simply get to enjoy the beauty of flight, which are so completely gratifying that it makes their arduous and perilous journey completely worth it.