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Wings: A History of Aviation from Kites to the space age Hardcover – November 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

National Air and Space Museum curator Crouch (A Dream of Wings; The Bishop's Boys) exuberantly surveys the entirety of aviation history. Wealthy aristocrat George Cayley progressed from a helicopter toy (1796) and model gliders (1804) to a glider capable of lifting a human (1849). After Cayley came a parade of pioneers, including John Joseph Montgomery, the "first American to leave the ground on wings of his own design" (1884). Otto Lilienthal made 2,000 glider flights, and his 1896 death during an airborne accident piqued the Wright Brothers' interest. At this point, Crouch carries the narrative aloft, taking note of the exhilarating exhibitions by barnstorming "aerial gypsies" after the WWI aircraft production boom. With the Air Mail Act of 1925, "Post Office officials realized that they were laying the foundation for commercial aviation in the United States." The Allies in WWII learned much from downed Messerschmitts and other Nazi rocket secrets, ushering in a new era of high-speed aerodynamics that cued a shift from aviation to aerospace (travel beyond earth's atmosphere). Computers brought change; in-flight movies were introduced in 1961; and weather-beaten hangars were replaced by gleaming terminals. With international tourism came the spread of American commercial culture. The book concludes with September 11 and the airline losses and layoffs that followed. Crouch notes that his history was "30 years in the making," and his exhaustive research is evident in 42 pages of notes and a vast array of sources. Capturing the romance of flight along with successes, failures and many memorable figures from Lindbergh to Yeager, this is a book that soars, a worthy celebration of the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first flight. 125 illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Aviation buffs will love Crouch's history of the industry's century-long technological ascent from gliders to jetliners and stealth bombers. Better yet, the author incorporates the business side of the industry into his narrative, reminding admirers of particular planes that they express attempts to make flying pay (except for military and research planes, of course). Making money has always been a challenge in aviation; the Wright brothers did so, barely, but their company and hundreds of successors in manufacturing have vanished. Crouch tracks the shakeouts and mergers as much as he does the development of classics such as the DC-3 and Boeing 707. The evolution of military aircraft and, particularly, their pilots also receives his attention. The still-famous aces of World War I are recalled in the most detail, as are aviators of the 1920s and 1930s such as Bessie Coleman, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393057674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393057676
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,211,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kingsley on May 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tom Crouch's _Wings_ is, by far, the best one volume account of the history of aviation currently available. Not surprisingly (given his position as senior curator of aeronautics at the Air&Space Museum), Crouch is exceptionally well-versed in the subject. Moreover, he is a fine writer. The text is engaging, well-organized, and strikes a good balance between technical, cultural, and "nuts and bolts" aspects of the subject. Overall, the book is quite an accomplishment.

Even so, as another reviewer has noted, there are far too many mistakes in the book. Some of them are clearly the results of sloppy editing by the publisher. In what has to be the most outrageous example of poor editing I've seen, the name of Russian aviation pioneer Nikolai Zhukovsky appears transliterated in three different ways: the more familiar "Zhukovsky" plus "Zhukovskii" AND "Joukowski." Amazingly two different transliterations appear on the same page within three sentences of each other ... TWICE! (pp. 137 & 376)

While transliteration and typographical mistakes might be explained by the publisher's rush to release the book in time to coincide with official celebrations of the Centennial of Flight, the factual mistakes are far less understandable.

Among the more egregious examples:

Regarding initial German airstrikes on the USSR in June 1941 Crouch writes: "[the Luftwaffe] struck sixty-six Soviet forward airfields in southern Rumania..." (p. 396) [Huh?]

"The Soviets lost two hundred planes that day [21 June 1941]" (p. 396) [In fact, they lost more than 900.]

On page 417 Crouch writes that the "roughly half a million US dollars" spent by the Germans on their rocket programs (V-1 & V-2) cost "one-fourth the price of the Manhattan Project." (p.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bob C on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quick disclaimer: While reading Wings, I sensed that its release was timed to generally coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight (for many, the real origin of aviation as we know it). There are about a dozen or so typos and/or other generally minor mistakes which, to me, indicate a less than thorough proof-reading or editing job--perhaps in a rush to get the book to the printers. While the errors are not show-stoppers in and of themselves, they do take the polish off a bit of an otherwise fine book. I hope a second edition will catch them. Even with these, however, I feel I can state that this is the book I've always wanted but didn't realize it, put out by one of my favorite publishing houses to boot (W.W. Norton; I'm an O'Brian fan as well).
Aviation buffs have always had their favorite aircraft, be they air superiority fighters or superior air freighters, but this book deals with them all, in a style readable for the generalist as well as the enthusiast. The editorial reviews will give you a flavor of what Mr Crouch covers in this history, which is more of a biography of flight in many ways. The book does not generally dwell on any one particular aircraft or type (the author took a balanced approach toward both the military and commercial aspects of flight, as well as how they typically complement each other). Landmark aircraft or events in aviation history do get decent face time--and though purists may quibble over whether "their" aircraft got sufficient treatment here, I believe Mr Crouch has done more than a creditable job in bringing this century of aviation into focus for most folks.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ThomasD on January 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Its a pretty major undertaking to cover 100 years of diverse aviation history and to make that history flow and be readable. Tom Crouch succeeds at this - the book is hard to put down and easy to read. Some books like this read more like text books and do not flow well with some sections obviously being written independently from others. This is not the case with "Wings" - the text flows well. Its also very comprehensive.

As some people pointed out, there are some typographical / editorial errors in the book - the wrong aircraft model or make referenced, a photo captioned incorrectly, etc. However, I'd argue that the errors are minor and do not detract from the book in any significant way.

I'd also argue that the book is largely unbiased. There are definitely some areas where Crouch raises questions which may prompt thought on the part of the reader, but I've seen far more heavy handed statements of "facts" in other books.

In short, I think this book is a great addition to one's aviation library and an enjoyable book to read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K. Wilkins on September 20, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you ever had a question about the history of flight, this book has the answer. Spanning the entire twentieth century and then some, Wings also crosses the globe, covering major advancements made by all nations without being too US-centric. Black and white pictures and quotes by early observers capture the awe inspiring first years of flight.

As you might imagine, this is a pretty hefty tome covering massive amounts of material - a fact that wasn't always handled well. The organization of the book drove me a little nutty, jumping from topic to topic with little continuity and much back-tracking in the chronological order of events. Some chapters included information grouped by date and others included information grouped by topic. A lot of these sections were simply packed with facts and figures, with very little of the narration promised by narrative non-fiction. I felt jipped. Occasionally we'd stay with a topic long enough for the subject to become engaging, but this book mostly made me want to go read other books to learn more about specific people and events.

Later in the book, characters and companies begin to make repeat appearances, which helps with the continuity problem. But at the end of the day, this was not the book I was looking for. I intentionally chose the book for its' broad perspectives on aviation (something it does quite well!) but it turned out that I'm not especially interested in the broader view. It's possible more narration and less fact-listing would have helped, but I think I'll be a little wary of choosing broad over-views in the future. I'd much rather read a book the tells a limited but engaging personal story.
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