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Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 6, 2014

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Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies + The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight + Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1St Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034553803X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345538031
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Wilbur and Orville Wright expected much more than fame after they flew across the sands at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Having successfully flown and filed a broadly worded patent for a wing and rudder design, they expected royalties to be paid to them for every aircraft built by rivals. Believing they owned the concept of flight, they also demanded licensing fees for every barnstorming flight and a cut from the profits of every public air show. Glenn Curtiss and other proud air pioneers scoffed at the brothers’ claim, arguing they had all had a hand in achieving flight. In Birdmen, historian and novelist Goldstone recounts years of legal wrangling that slowed Americans using aircraft for commerce, transportation, and defense until the start of WWI. The author also chronicles a four-year period in which 142 barnstorming pilots died and swarming spectators picked their broken bodies and aircraft for souvenirs. This period history presents ample biographical details for readers who enjoy rivalries. --Rick Roche


“A meticulously researched account of the first few hectic, tangled years of aviation and the curious characters who pursued it . . . a worthy companion to Richard Holmes’s marvelous history of ballooning, Falling Upwards.”Time
“The daredevil scientists and engineers who forged the field of aeronautics spring vividly to life in Lawrence Goldstone’s history.”Nature
“The history of the development of an integral part of the modern world and a fascinating portrayal of how a group of men and women achieved a dream that had captivated humanity for centuries.”The Christian Science Monitor
“Captivating and wonderfully presented . . . a fine book about these rival pioneers.”The Wall Street Journal
“[A] vivid story of invention, vendettas, derring-do, media hype and patent fights [with] modern resonance.”Financial Times
“A powerful story that contrasts soaring hopes with the anchors of ego and courtroom.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting narrative about the pioneering era of aeronautics in America and beyond . . . Goldstone raises questions of enduring importance regarding innovation and the indefinite exertion of control over ideas that go public.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A superbly crafted retelling of a story familiar to aviation buffs, here greatly strengthened by fresh perspectives, rigorous analyses, comprehensible science, and a driving narrative.”Library Journal (starred review)

Birdmen is so much more than the story of man’s leap into the clouds. Exhilarating, exasperating, and inspiring in equal measure, the Wright brothers’ tale is a parable for modern times, told in fascinating detail and gripping prose by Lawrence Goldstone.”—Dr. Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“Meticulously researched and illuminating, Birdmen unveils the forgotten flyboys who gave America an invention to win wars, spread peace, and advance her destiny—air power.”—Adam Makos, internationally bestselling author of A Higher Call
“The history of human flight goes way beyond the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. Lawrence Goldstone skillfully tells the rest of the story about the dreamers history has forgotten, and it’s a helluva story superbly told. Birdmen is a wondrous journey from takeoff to landing.”—Bill Griffeth, author of By Faith Alone

“With riveting prose, rich research, and an uncommon talent for weaving heroic and tragic tales of complex persons with accounts of invention and institutions, Lawrence Goldstone reveals the human dimensions of the birth of modern times in this exhilarating book.”—Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
“Lawrence Goldstone offers a beautifully written account of the dawn of powered flight. It’s a great story of technical innovation, fierce competition, and powerful personalities. Goldstone provides a vibrant narrative of the Wright brothers battling Glenn Curtiss over government contracts, patents, and prizes, and describes issues pertinent to today’s business professionals and military personnel alike.”—Colonel John Abbatiello, PhD, USAF (Retired), author ofAnti-Submarine Warfare in World War I: British Naval Aviation and the Defeat of the U-Boats

“Goldstone provides a fresh, engaging, and compelling narrative that significantly enhances our understanding of one of the most remarkable stories in American history. He expertly documents the achievements and frailties of the Wright brothers as they pursued manned flight and attempted to profit from their breakthrough ideas. This well-written book is a pleasure to read.”—Tom Nicholas, William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“The first aviators took to the skies with amazing courage and ingenuity, but, it turns out, also fighting like warbirds. None of these dogfights was was more epic and vital to flying’s future than the one waged by Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtiss. Beautifully told, Goldstone’s book gives full vent to the action, while in the process weaving a compelling and sophisticated narrative of aviation’s earliest days.”—Robert O’Connell, author of The Ghosts of Cannae

Customer Reviews

The book flows quite well and is a very interesting read.
B. Wilson
The subtitle of the book is The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies.
David Pruette
A must read for anyone interested in the early aviation history.
W. Sunderland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Q. Publius VINE VOICE on April 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, home of Orville and Wilbur Wright, I knew the story of their aviation endeavors and I have visited the sites in Dayton where they worked (including their bicycle shop) and the Huffman Prairie where they tested their flying machine. But I was not that familiar with their patent legal battles with Glenn Curtiss, a motorcycle racer who became known for his innovative aircraft and whose name today is primarily associated with being an American aviation pioneer and founder of the US aircraft industry. This book deals with the early years of aviation, lives and inventions of the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and also colorful personalities associated with the times such as Tom Baldwin, inventor of the parachute, John Moisant, the celebrated daredevil, Harriet Quimby, who became the first woman to fly across the English Channel and Lincoln Beachey who was known for his air stunts. The long legal battles between the Wright Brothers and Curtiss are adequately discussed. This well researched volume is a wonderful book depicting those wild early years of aviation and it has something for everyone interested in the topic of early 20th century history, aviation and invention. Highly recommended.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mitchell VINE VOICE on March 6, 2014
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If you get through this book you must really really love aviation. The book started with so much promise but then got bogged down in too much detail. Once the Wrights got up into the air, virtually every flight and aviator was chronicled for the first several years of flying. Not only are the details of the flights given, but every corporate structure is examined and every organizational facet of every exhibit provided. It just got too much.

There are some very good aspects. The analysis of the early development was captivating. In a truly different world, inventors and aviation enthusiasts shared information - until the Wright brothers. That is another captivating aspect of the book. The brothers, particularly Wilbur, were terribly litigious and protective of everything about their planes. They early on filed patents and then spent years and countless dollars defending them on weak legal grounds. This alienated virtually everyone else in the field.

There is a lot of good information in this book. Unfortunately, it got bogged way down in details. I found myself skimming (do we really need several pages of the theatrical bio of one of the first female pilots?) and then losing interest, then flipping through looking for some pearls of interest. For enthusiasts, this is the mother lode. For the casual history buff, this is too much.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on May 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Wright brother's flight at Kitty Hawk was a monumental triumph. Wilbur's (and Orville's) genius at solving the problem that had stumped so many others for so long was truly remarkable. Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of his legal battles as he sought to patent and monopolize the invention with a broad "pioneering patent" that would have required licensing fees of all those who soared on his coattails. And even though Glenn Curtiss soon improved upon the methods of control (developing many of the improvements that are still in use today), he became an especially hated rival and target of the Wright's attacks. And the legal storm that erupted cast a constant shadow over the aeronautical industry when the public's thirst for air shows and events was at it's highest, making stars of the daredevils in the barnstorming circuit (really, most of them just wanted to see crashes). And it is widely felt that his focus on protecting his patents that caused his early death.

This is an interesting chronicle of the early years of aviation, from Kitty Hawk through the first World War. The Wrights and Curtiss are profiled, along with many other prominent but largely forgotten individuals: visionaries who put their faith in balloons such as Thomas Baldwin; scoundrels like Augustus Herring, who mostly made their fortune by deception; and daredevils such as Lincoln Beachy, who thrilled audiences with his death-defying stunts (as well as his own death) are included in this wide-reaching history.

While it's an interesting chronicle, I felt it suffered from a too-wide reach of history. Curtiss never became more than a cardboard figure in the history for me, despite his amazingly prominent role in nearly everything.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on April 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone gives us a detailed history of the Wright Brothers and the early days of human flight. And I mean very detailed. In fact, probably for many readers, too much detail. Keeping track of all the characters described can distract from the story. But for me, having read different histories of that era, that level of detail was fine.

Lawrence Goldstone focuses on the "battle to control the skies" that was fought between the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss. After the Wright Brothers flew their historic plane on Kitty Hawk, they went into stealth mode to try to sell their technology, relying on their landmark patent to give them a monopoly on flight. The problem was that as the Wright Brothers shifted their focus from flight to the patent fight, their unimproved technology became dated and their lawsuits hampered their competitors like Glenn Curtiss from making improvements as well.

The upshot was that the United States got left behind in the aviation industry. In fact, when airplanes took to the skies over the battlefields of World War I, the airplanes were made by Germany, France and Great Britain. None were of American design and none, with a minor exception, were of American manufacture. The blame for that shameful showing lies, it seems, squarely on Wilbur Wright's shoulders, whose overwrought overwork in the patent wars cost him his life (according to his sister Katherine).

In telling that basic story, though, Lawrence Goldstone gives the stage to many other characters as well. That's where the book has its weaknesses. The story line jumps around a lot. Indeed, at one point in the story, Wilbur Wright dies, but then a few pages later we are back hearing about when he was alive. People come in and out of the story at odd moments.
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More About the Author

Lawrence Goldstone is the author of more than a dozen books of both fiction and non-fiction. Six of those books were co-authored with his wife, Nancy, but they now write separately to save what is left of their dishes.
Goldstone's articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, and Berkshire Eagle. He has also written for a number of magazines that have gone bust, although he denies any cause and effect.
His first novel, Rights, won a New American Writing Award but he now cringes at its awkward prose. (Anatomy of Deception, The Astronomer, and Murtro's Niche are much better.)
Despite a seemingly incurable tendency to say what's on his mind (thus mortifying Nancy), Goldstone has been widely interviewed on both radio and television, with appearances on, among others, Diane Rehm (NPR), "Fresh Air" (NPR), "To the Best of Our Knowledge" (NPR), "The Faith Middleton Show" (NPR), "Tavis Smiley" (PBS), and Leonard Lopate (WNYC). His work has also been profiled in The New York Times, The Toronto Star, numerous regional newspapers, Salon, and Slate.
Goldstone holds a PhD in American Constitutional Studies from the New School. His friends thus call him DrG, although he can barely touch the rim. (Sigh. Can't make a layup anymore either.) He and his beloved bride founded and ran an innovative series of parent-child book groups, which they documented in Deconstructing Penguins. He has also been a teacher, lecturer, senior member of a Wall Street trading firm, taxi driver, actor, quiz show contestant, and policy analyst at the Hudson Institute.
He is a unerring stock picker. Everything he buys instantly goes down.
For those with insatiable curiosity, you can learn more at