SOCIAL SCIENCES

Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle To Control the Skies

Ballantine. May 2014. 448p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780345538031. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345538048. HIST
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OrangeReviewStarGoldstone (Lefty: An American Odyssey) offers a fresh take on the Wright Brothers by treating them as the two individuals they were, men who frantically sought indefinite control of their patented findings in order both to quash the aeronautical contributions of chief rival Glenn Curtiss and to maximize their company's earnings. To be sure, the former goal was bound to fail over time, but the latter one was so destructive to the dawn of aviation and to themselves that, per Orville, it contributed to Wilbur's premature death. Goldstone posits that "in pursuing damages over technology, the Wrights had rendered themselves anachronisms." His narrative is replete with the era's aviation events and its oversize characters, e.g., the competition with Alexander Graham Bell's Aerial Experiment Association; the painful break between Wilbur and his erstwhile mentor, Octave Chanute; the renowned exhibition flyer Lincoln Beachey, who mastered the inside loop and inverted flight; the appalling lethality of the Wright-Curtis air shows; and Thomas Scott Baldwin, misguided proponent of lighter-than-air (balloon) flight.
VERDICT A superbly crafted retelling of a story familiar to aviation buffs, here greatly strengthened by fresh perspectives, rigorous analyses, comprehensible science, and a driving narrative. Recommended for aviation scholars and enthusiasts, period historians, and leisure readers in nonfiction.

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