The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
3 words: triumphant, character-driven, family
David McCullough is one of my guys. Two of his books appear in my blog banner, which I realized only when I was reading his latest, about the Wright brothers.
|(courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)|
Me and Wilbur and Orville, we go back a ways, too.
For years, I’ve gotten all misty-eyed and boring at cocktail parties* every December 17, because I regale anyone within earshot with the news that it’s the umpteenth anniversary of the first powered flight.
I say the words “Kitty Hawk” and “Kill Devil Hills.”
I say the words “muslin-covered wings” and “wind tunnel.”
I speak in awestruck tones about seeing the Wright Flyer at the Air and Space Museum.
I’m seriously the life of any party.
So this book had me all in a flutter. The flutter was worth the while.
McCullough is a wonderfully comforting writer, who is a master of his craft. His sentences just flow.
The other thing that makes him comforting is that he tends to tell the heroic stories, in a tone that’s relatively wart-free. He’s not out to tell how the Wright’s competitors tried to make them out as mean-spirited moneygrubbers whose protection of their patents bordered on the obsessive.
No, this book is about their hard work and their triumph. And it’s very much about their personalities and their family.
Neither man married, and they lived with their father and sister. Which sounds kind of horrid, except that it sounds like they had rather a happy home life.
And they were quiet fellows who largely kept to themselves, at least until fame struck.
So there are quiet, wonderful moments like this one, when Wilbur was about to take off on a demo flight in France:
“Finally, at six-thirty, with dusk settling, Wilbur turned his cap backward, and to Berg, Bolée, and the others said quietly, ‘Gentlemen, I’m going to fly.’” (p. 170)
Reading those words made me stop and clap a hand against the center of my chest and do the heartstruck look.
McCullough is a pleasant, talented author, and he’s writing about these quirky fellows whom he finds pleasant and talented himself, so it’s a whirlwind of goodness.
And despite the theme of flight, McCullough keeps it down to earth:
“Their nephew Milton, who as a boy was often hanging about the brothers, would one day write, “History was being made in their bicycle shop and in their home, but the making was so obscured by the commonplace that I did not recognize it until many years later.’” (p 113)
Warm, heroic, and stoic.
*I avoid cocktail parties like the plague. But anywhere else I am, I bore people with this December 17 business. Avoid me on that date.