After someone berated me for publishing a negative review of a book being discussed the next day at one of my book clubs, I decided never to again. In this case, I am waiting to publish after I hear what others, who may be more likely to connect with nonfiction, have to say about David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers. To be fair to myself, I needed to write what I thought first.
Reading nonfiction often feels like reading a textbook, with dates and facts clogging the forward motion. The eerie feeling of being tested always lurked in my mind, as I blithely skipped over mathematical formula and engineering theory, intruding on McCullough’s easy storytelling style. Overcoming the urge to stop reading several times, I did finish the book, and was glad of it.
The history of flight and the Wright brothers clear claim to overcoming man’s resistance to air are well documented. I too have visited the site of flight in North Carolina and wondered at the sand dunes where Wilbur may have fallen over and over until he captured the magic. With McCullough’s version, the brothers’ story became human and relatable, and their genius revealed – creating the engineering marvel of an airplane without a degree in physics or mechanical engineering.
Avoiding their personal stories until the Epilogue, McCullough focuses on their difficulties and successes and reveals the same obstacles many overcome when they imagine a new idea: someone else tried to take credit, the government would not provide backing until a foreign agent became interested, money was tight and trust outside their inner circle was nonexistent. The year in France and their contemporary and rival Alexander Bell were surprises to me, as was Wilbur’s death at a young age, and Katherine’s late marriage.
Orville died in 1948 – not so long ago – and lived to see their invention become a weapon in wars, but not long enough to witness the evolution to jets and rockets. Perhaps someday we will not even need a mechanical contraption to get us where we want to go – Star Trek’s “beam me up” facility is always a possibility.
McCullough captured the moments of innovation and creativity and grounded them with realistic sweat and problem-solving to give the Wright brothers their rightful due. I look forward to someone writing historical fiction about Wilbur’s year in Paris.