The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, narrated by David McCullough.
The book is read by the author, clearly, with perfect pronunciation, but sometimes his voice is drones on in a monotone. Since the book is really interesting, I suggest the print version over the audio. The story of the Wright Brothers is filled with so many interesting tidbits of information about their family dynamics, their efforts to create a flying machine, and world opinion about that endeavor, that it would be a shame to zone out and miss some charming fact because of a lack of expression.
Brilliant and talented, the Wright brothers were born into a time of wonderful innovation. By the early 1900’s, technology had made great strides. There were sewing machines, steam engines, bicycles, typewriters, cameras and horseless carriages. The time was ripe for new inventions. All of the Wrights were well brought up. Their father was a Bishop and the family had good values. They held each other in high esteem with great respect for, and strong loyalties to, each other. Although some thought that the brothers were fools for trying to create a flying machine, the family supported and stood by them throughout their years of struggle.
Orville was the younger of the two brothers, and while Wilbur was analytical, Orville was the more hands on partner. Together they made a perfect team. They truly admired each other and worked well together. They were frugal, building whatever they needed without turning to the outside world for help. To test the results of their work, they needed a remote place with the best climate for their project. It brought them to Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Through constant trial and error, after about a decade of laborious research and testing, they finally achieved acclaim in the United States. For several years before that, they were recognized in Europe, but America came late to their table.
Although the brothers did not have much higher education, they were so bright and dedicated that they accomplished amazing things, against all odds. When young, although illness plagued Wilbur, he overcame his weakness and began working earnestly with his brother Orville as soon as he was able. First they started a local newspaper and then opened a bicycle store, tweaking the bicycles to make them better and better, proceeding to grow until they were building special order, custom bicycles. Then, captivated by the thought that birds held the secret to flight, they began to study the creatures and read all available information on them, some of which they acquired through the Smithsonian Institute. Their meticulous research and documentation, followed by careful observation, experimentation and demonstrations, brought them success. Even when they experienced failure and serious injury as they tested their machines, they maintained a sense of optimism and with infinite patience continued their uphill struggle, confronting ridicule with courage and fortitude.
The bicycle shop financed their attempts to build the flying machine, since that was their full time work, and the attempt to build an airplane was merely an extracurricular activity, a sideline and an obsession, in a way. It was Katharine Wright, their sister, who helped run the shop in their absence and stood by them for many years at the expense of her own life. Originally a teacher, she was keen to help the brothers accomplish their goal and, in later years, she was with them in Europe where their success was first acknowledged.
Never married, the brothers and their sister remained very close, as did the rest of the entire, tight-knit family. Wilbur died young but Orville lived deep into his seventies. When Katharine married at 58, Orville was devastated and cut off ties with her for most of the rest of his life. However, out of respect for his brother, he continued his marketing efforts for flying machines! The book brings the Wrights to life and reads more like a novel than a biography about brilliant brothers. Aided by a sister, who sacrificed most of her life supporting their efforts, and parents that encouraged hard work and perseverance, parents and a family that helped them to be all they could be, they made history and improved the lives of countless millions.