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The Wright Brothers Hardcover – May 5, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 4,416 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: Most people recognize the famous black-and-white photo of the Wright brothers on a winter day in 1903, in a remote spot called Kitty Hawk, when they secured their place in history as the first to fly a motor-powered airplane. That brilliant moment is the cornerstone of the new masterful book by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, who brings his deft touch with language and his eye for humanizing details to the unusually close relationship between a pair of brothers from Dayton, Ohio, who changed aviation history. Bicycle shop owners by day, Wilbur and Orville taught themselves flight theory through correspondence with the Smithsonian and other experts. But the brothers soon realized that theory was no match for practical testing, and they repeatedly risked life and limb in pursuit of their goal—including when Orville fractured a leg and four ribs in a 75-foot plunge to the ground. McCullough’s narration of ventures such as this—their famous first flight at Kitty Hawk; the flight in Le Mans, France that propelled the brothers to international fame; the protracted patent battles back at home; and the early death of elder brother Wilbur—will immerse readers in the lives of the Wright family. Like other great biographies before it, The Wright Brothers tells the story about the individuals behind the great moments in history, while never sacrificing beauty in language and reverence in tone. – Manfred Collado

Review

“A story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency. . . . A story, well told, about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished. . . . The Wright Brothers soars.” (Daniel Okrent The New York Times Book Review)

“David McCullough has etched a brisk, admiring portrait of the modest, hardworking Ohioans who designed an airplane in their bicycle shop and solved the mystery of flight on the sands of Kitty Hawk, N.C. He captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished and, just as important, the wonder felt by their contemporaries. . . . Mr. McCullough is in his element writing about seemingly ordinary folk steeped in the cardinal American virtues—self-reliance and can-do resourcefulness.” (Roger Lowenstein The Wall Street Journal)

“The nitty-gritty of exactly how [the Wrights] succeeded is told in fascinating detail.” (Buzzy Jackson The Boston Globe)

“Few historians have captured the essence of America — its rise from an agrarian nation to the world's dominant power — like David McCullough. . . . McCullough has defined American icons and revealed new dimensions to stories that long seemed exhausted. . . . An elegant, sweeping look at the two Americans who went where no others had gone before and whose work helped create a national excellence in aviation that continues today." (Ray Locker USA Today)

"McCullough’s magical account of [the Wright Brothers'] early adventures — enhanced by volumes of family correspondence, written records, and his own deep understanding of the country and the era — shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly." (Reeve Lindbergh The Washington Post)

“[McCullough] takes the Wrights’ story aloft. . . . Concise, exciting, and fact-packed. . . . Mr. McCullough presents all this with dignified panache, and with detail so granular you may wonder how it was all collected.” (Janet Maslin The New York Times)

“David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers is a story about two brothers and one incredible moment in American history. But it’s also a story that resonates with anyone who believes deeply in the power of technology to change lives – and the resistance some have to new innovations.” (Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google)

"McCullough vividly re-creates the failures and disappointments as the Wright brothers puzzle out the scienceof bird- and insect-wing design. . . . [McCullough] continues to deliverhigh-quality material with familiar facility and grace." (Larry Lebowitz The Miami Herald)

"An outstanding saga of the lives of two men who left such a giant footprint on our modern age." (Booklist (starred review))

“[An] enjoyable, fast-paced tale. . . . A fun, fast ride.” (The Economist)

"[A] fluently rendered, skillfully focused study. . . . An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators." (Kirkus Reviews)

"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." (Publishers Weekly)

“We all know what they did and where they did it — Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But McCullough digs deeply to find out how they did it, and why they did it, and what happened to them in the years that followed.” (Harry Levins The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"A compelling, upbeat story that underscores the importance of industriousness, creative intelligence and indomitable patience.” (Doug Childers Richmond Times-Dispatch)

"Pleasurable to read. . . . McCullough has a gift for finding the best in his subjects without losing perspective on their flaws." (Margaret Quamme The Columbus Dispatch)

“A master storyteller. . . . The brothers’ story unfolds and develops with grace and insight in a style at which McCullough is simply the best.” (David Henricks The San Antonio Express-News)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 5, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476728747
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476728742
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4,416 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 5, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David McCullough is one of the preeminent American historians of our times, the deft biographer of John Adams and Harry Truman, and in this book he brings his wonderful historical exposition and storytelling skills to the lives of the Wright brothers. So much is known about these men that they have been turned into legends. Legends they were but they were also human, and this is the quality that McCullough is best at showcasing in these pages. The book is a quick and fun read. If I have some minor reservations they are only in the lack of technical detail which could have informed descriptions of some of the Wrights' experiments and the slightly hagiographical tint that McCullough is known to bring to his subjects. I would also have appreciated some more insights into attempts that other people around the world were making in enabling powered flight. Nevertheless, this is after all a popular work, and popular history seldom gets better than under McCullough's pen.

The book shines in three aspects. Firstly McCullough who is quite certainly one of the best storytellers among all historians does a great job of giving us the details of the Wrights' upbringing and family. He drives home the importance of the Wrights' emphasis on simplicity, intellectual hunger and plain diligence, hard work and determination. The Wright brothers' father who was a Bishop filled the house with books and learning and never held back their intellectual curiosity. This led to an interest in tinkering in the best sense of the tradition, first with bicycles and then with airplanes.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
McCullough has written a serious and riveting review of the lives of Wilbur and Orville. His writing style is concise, thorough, and unpretentious. I was able to read it easily and enjoyably and learned many things about the Wright family that I didn’t know. The book was thus valuable to me.

FAMILY

McCullough makes it clear that the Wilbur and Orville were a product of their family environment. Their father was the major influence. Milton Wright was a minister and finally a bishop in the United Brethren Church in Christ.

McCullough writes — “He was an unyielding abstainer, which was rare on the frontier, a man of rectitude and purpose— all of which could have served as a description of Milton himself and Wilbur and Orville as well.”

His strict values molded and focused the views of the three younger Wrights (Katherine, Wilbur, and Orville). In addition to his strictness, he was a true classical liberal in his beliefs in the scientific method and equal rights for all people, no matter their race or gender. For example, Milton wrote to his sons when they were in Paris trying to get support for their flying machine: “Sons—Be men of the highest types personally, mentally, morally, and spiritually. Be clean, temperate, sober minded, and great souled.” As grown, experienced, and highly successful inventors, they responded: “Father — All the wine I have tasted since leaving home would not fill a single wine glass. I am sure that Orville and myself will do nothing that will disgrace the training we received from you and Mother.”

McCullough writes — “Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world.
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Format: Hardcover
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS is an easy to read, exciting story about the men (and the woman!) at the forefront of aviation. David McCullough weaves a fun tale exploring the competition to accomplish the first flight. It's a story of hardship, dedication, and scientific research by mechanics without even a college education. Wilbur and Orville Wright accomplished for about $1000 what the director of the Smithsonian museum had just crashed into the Potomac River for $70,000.

Perhaps the most notable feature of this book is the detail and research evident. As an example of the author's persistent research, the author is now credited with solving the infamous "hockey stick incident." There has long been a mystery about the villain who smacked Wilbur in the face with a hockey stick. The author finally resolves this mystery, finding a diary entry pointing to the actual villain. It turns out that the culprit was a ne'r-do well named Oliver Crook Haugh. In fact, Haugh was later executed for murdering his own family.

The significance of the hockey stick incident is this: It caused depression so severe that Wilbur remained mostly home-ridden. As a result, he became a voracious reader; more importantly, Wilbur and Orville become closer, ultimately teaming them as business partners together. Of course, this meant a printing press business, followed by a bike shop, followed by airplane inventors/mechanics.

The author explains the rejection of the brothers by the American government, while France wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged the men. American officials expressed no interest (at first, that is.) Even when a prominent senator encouraged the government to investigate, nothing happened.

McCullough emphasizes the mechanical skill and research of the two.
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