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The Wright brothers
McCullough, David G.,

Personal Author:
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Physical Description:
320 pages, [48] leaves of unnumbered plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
1. Beginnings -- 2. The dream takes hold -- 3. Where the winds blow -- 4. Unyielding resolve -- 5. December 17, 1903 -- 6. Out at Huffman prairie -- 7. A capital exhibit A -- 8. Triumph at Le Mans -- 9. The crash -- 10. A time like no other -- 11. Causes for celebration -- Epilogue.
"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.
Bibliography Note:
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Pub Date:
Simon & Schuster, [2015]


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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.

Author Notes

David McCullough was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 7, 1933. He received a bachelor's degree in English literature from Yale University in 1955. After graduation, he moved to New York City and worked as a trainee at Sports Illustrated. He later worked as a writer and editor for the United States Information Agency, in Washington, D.C., including a position at American Heritage.

His first book, The Johnstown Flood, was published in 1968. His other books include 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. He received the Pulitzer Prize twice for Truman and John Adams and the National Book Award twice for The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal and Mornings on Horseback. He also won two Francis Parkman Prizes, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and New York Public Library's Literary Lion Award. Two of his books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted into a television movie and mini-series, respectively, by HBO. In December 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also made the New York Times Best Seller List in 2015 with his book The Wright Brothers, and in 2017 with The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.

(Bowker Author Biography) David McCullough is a writer, historian, lecturer, & teacher. He has received the Pulitzer Prize for "Truman", as well as the Francis Parkman Prize, & the "Los Angeles Times" Book Award. He is also a two-time winner of the National Book Award, for history & for biography. He lives in Massachusetts.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mechanical invention is close to a religious calling in this reverent biography of the pioneers of heavier-than-air flight. Pulitzer-winning historian McCullough (Truman) sees something exalted in the two bicycle mechanics and lifelong bachelors who lived with their sister and clergyman father in Dayton, Ohio. He finds them-especially Wilbur, the elder brother-to be cultured men with a steady drive and quiet charisma, not mere eccentrics. McCullough follows their monkish devotion to the goal of human flight, recounting their painstaking experiments in a homemade wind tunnel, their countless wrong turns and wrecked models, and their long stints roughing it on the desolate, buggy shore at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Thanks largely to their own caginess, the brothers endured years of doubt and ridicule while they improved their flyer. McCullough also describes the fame and adulation that the brothers received after public demonstrations in France and Washington, D.C., in 1908 cemented their claims. His evident admiration for the Wrights leads him to soft-pedal their crasser side, like their epic patent lawsuits, which stymied American aviation for years. Still, McCullough's usual warm, evocative prose makes for an absorbing narrative; he conveys both the drama of the birth of flight and the homespun genius of America's golden age of innovation. Photos. Agent: Mort Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Choice Review

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner McCullough exhibits his artist's touch in re-creating the lives of the Wright brothers, their father, and their sister Katharine from historical documents. Mining their letters, notebooks, and diaries, McCullough shows the Wright brothers (snubbed by the British as mere bicycle mechanics) for the important technoscientists they were. With only high school educations, they personified self-reliance and ingenuity, making their own calculations and testing their mechanical skills as they experimented with gliders. Their solution to controlling the gliders' flight was wing warping, enabling the gliders to bank like a bird's wings. As early engine designers and mechanics, when they couldn't find a light enough engine, they designed one that their mechanic built in six weeks. A few days after Langley's $70,000 failure, the Wright brothers made several powered flights--for less than $1,000--to prove that humans could fly. When the US military rejected their services, the Wrights signed a contract with a French syndicate. From 1910 on, the brothers were much occupied by business and patent infringement lawsuits. Wilbur contracted typhoid and died in 1912, but Orville lived until 1948. The brothers were remarkable for their analytical minds, their skiIl as early pilots, and their brilliance as experimental scientists. This work is their great, eminently readable story. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. --Robin Higham, emeritus, Kansas State University

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Fairly or not, Orville and Wilbur Wright will always be best remembered by the general public for December 17, 1903, the day at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, when the brothers flew, for the first time, a heavier-than-air vehicle. Of course, the brothers had accomplishments and interesting lives that both preceded and followed that triumphant day, as this fine biography by esteemed historian McCullough shows. McCullough offers an interesting portrait of their youth in Dayton, Ohio, that also serves as an examination of daily life in post-Civil War Middle America. Neither boy had a formal education beyond high school, although Wilbur's plan to attend Yale was thwarted by an injury. Yet both displayed keen intelligence and strong interest in various mechanical devices. That interest led to their ownership of both print and bicycle shops, but their interest in the possibility of human flight soon became an obsession for them. McCullough illustrates their creative geniuses as well as their physical courage leading up to the initial flight. He also pays tribute to an unsung hero, their sister Katherine, who played a prominent role in their achievements. This is an outstanding saga of the lives of two men who left such a giant footprint on our modern age. High-Demand Backstory: This author's countless previous bestsellers demand that public libraries have his latest book in their shelves.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2015 Booklist

Library Journal Review

McCullough (John Adams; 1776) effectively blends impeccable writing with historical rigor and strong character definition in his biography of Wright brothers Wilbur, the abstract thinker and introvert; and Orville, the extrovert and hands-on doer. They had limited formal education, with the author instead attributing his subjects' success to industry, imagination, and persistence, as seen in their early enterprises as newspaper publishers, printers, and bicycle salesmen in Dayton, OH. Credit is also accorded to their widowed father, Bishop Milton Wright, as well as their sister Katharine for their support of "Ullam" (Wilbur) and "Bubs" (Orville). Highlights of McCullough's narrative include his discussions of the Wrights' innovative conception of wing-warping as a means of flight control; the brothers' first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, on December 17, 1903; the issuance of the Wright flying machine patent #821,393 on May 22, 1906; the Ohioans' ongoing search for markets abroad; and the elder Wright's perfect flying demonstrations at Le Mans, France, even as Orville was nearly killed in a similar performance before army brass at Fort Myer, VA. The author closes with the incorporation of the Wright Company, patent infringement suits filed against competitor Glenn Curtiss, and the deaths of Wilbur (1912), Milton (1917), Katharine (1929), and Orville (1948). VERDICT A signal contribution to Wright historiography. Highly recommended for academicians interested in the history of flight, transportation, or turn-of-the-century America; general readers; and all libraries.-John Carver Edwards, formerly with Univ. of Georgia Libs. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Wright Brothers PROLOGUE 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. According to brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, it began for them with a toy from France, a small helicopter brought home by their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a great believer in the educational value of toys. The creation of a French experimenter of the nineteenth century, Alphonse Pénaud, it was little more than a stick with twin propellers and twisted rubber bands, and probably cost 50 cents. "Look here, boys," said the Bishop, something concealed in his hands. When he let go it flew to the ceiling. They called it the "bat." 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. Excerpted from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Part I
1 Beginningsp. 5
2 The Dream Takes Holdp. 27
3 Where the Winds Blowp. 43
4 Unyielding Resolvep. 65
Part II
5 December 17, 1903p. 85
6 Out at Huffman Prairiep. 109
7 A Capital Exhibit Ap. 131
8 Triumph at Le Mansp. 155
Part III
9 The Crashp. 181
10 A Time Like No Otherp. 203
11 Causes for Celebrationp. 227
Epiloguep. 255
Acknowledgmentsp. 263
Source Notesp. 269
Bibliographyp. 303
Illustration Creditsp. 309
Indexp. 311

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