From Publishers Weekly
This thoroughly entertaining history of one of the currently overlooked heroes from early-20th-century aviation equals that of Hoffman's earlier volume, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Almost unknown today except in his native Brazil (where he is a revered figure), Alberto Santos-Dumont was known throughout the world as "a maverick among contemporary aeronauts." Obsessed with the idea of flight from an early age, Santos-Dumont (1873-1932) was an eccentric genius whose inherited wealth allowed him to live in luxury in fin-de-siecle Paris, at first working on ballooning. After designing small, cigar-shaped, engine-powered vehicles, which he used for everything from traveling around Paris to circling the Eiffel Tower, he soon became one of the best-known men in the city. Later he built "the world's first sports plane." Hoffman expertly recaptures from the historical dustbin the many facets of this unique character who befriended the Rothschilds and Cartiers, ran in the same crowd as Marcel Proust and devoted his life to a singular passion unmatched even by the obsessive Wright Brothers during the early days of aviation, "a time when the vast majority of Europeans and Americans had not yet traveled along the ground in an automobile."
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The Wright brothers launched the age of manned aviation at Kitty Hawk in 1903. However, they did so in near secrecy, primarily because they wished to protect their patent rights. Three years later, a Brazilian investor and aviator living in Paris made a more publicly viewed flight and was acclaimed, temporarily, as the father of manned flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle. Hoffman writes an account of an adventurous epoch and an adventurous, attractive, but strangely melancholy man. While the Wright brothers shunned publicity, Santos-Dumont craved it. He was lively, flamboyant, and a social butterfly, who sometimes seemed to view aviation as a diverting lark. He seemed entirely at home in the freewheeling, stimulating milieu of pre-war Paris. Yet, beneath his bon vivant exterior, Santos-Dumont was driven with a creative passion and was tortured by the militarization of aircraft. Hoffman is a gifted writer whose elegant prose captures a fascinating era and a compelling personality who was never fully at ease with that era or with himself. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved