Book of the Month: The Wright Brothers

Local Life

81EFtcARgrLWhat could be more fitting for our May MSP Book of the Month than: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (John Adams; Truman)? The brothers, Wilbur and Orville, are, of course, credited with inventing the world’s first successful airplane in 1903. However, their penchant for transportation began with bicycles. The two learned how to build them and opened their own shop (much to the dismay of elders in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, who thought bicycles would corrupt youth and inspire deviant behavior).

The Wrights had a wayward reputation. Obsessed with aviation, they spent 14 to 16 hours a day in search of a way to take flight. They studied birds, flapping their arms in time with the birds’ wings—and wind—researching which areas had the strongest and steadiest currents. They self-financed all of their inventions. Most people thought they were nuts.

McCullough, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, tells a thrilling tale of the Wrights’ unfailing determination in the face of extreme skepticism (the United States government largely ignored their efforts). It’s a story that goes well beyond the surface scratch most people learn of the brothers in elementary school. Did you know, for example, that Wilbur was disfigured after being hit in the face with a hockey stick? And Orville nearly died in a plane crash in 1908. As boys, they grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing, but the house was filled with books thanks to their preacher father. Perhaps most fascinating is the attention McCullough focuses on Katherine Wright, the brothers’ only sister. Largely unknown, she was pivotal to their success.

Worldwide, the current airline industry generates approximately $675 billion in annual revenue with the number of air travelers expected to reach 3.6 billion by 2016. To think that it all stems from two brothers, some spruce wood and muslin, and a windy day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, 1903. Not to mention: True grit.

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