The Wright Brothers by David McCullough



As always, my winter dreams of summer reading bump up against reality.  There’s always something that gets in the way of my plan. This year it’s a virus that has hung around way too long – which explains my blog silence and my low summer reading count.  But yesterday, I finished David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, which was worth every hour I devoted to it.

In a personal act of hometown pride, McCullough’s new biography jumped to the top of my stack the day it was published. The Wright Brothers are the pride of Dayton, Ohio – my hometown.  I knew their basic story and, in fact, grew up not too far from the house Orville lived in between 1914 and his death in 1948.  I’m not proud to admit this, but my only hesitation in reading McCullough’s book was that it would devote countless pages to the mechanical aspects of flying.  As a frequent airline passenger, maybe I should care more about this, but I just can’t do it.

I could not have been more wrong. McCullough’s book in an inspiring and truly amazing story of perseverance and true genius.  What comes through most clearly is how incredibly true both Wilbur and Orville were to themselves and their home. After years working in quiet obscurity, they ultimately were honored by titled people all over the world, but as McCullough writes:

“For all they had seen and done, the unprecedented glory bestowed on them, it had by all signs neither changed them nor turned their heads in the least. There was no boasting, no preening, no getting too big for their britches, as said, and it was this, almost as much as their phenomenal achievements, that was so greatly admired.


There were lots of places when I had an “I never knew that” moment. For example, I didn’t know that when Charles Lindbergh returned from his historic flight to Paris, he visited Orville Wright in Dayton.  It was also interesting to consider what a relatively short time there was between their first flights in 1903 and planes being used to drop bombs in WWII.

I’ll be in Ohio in a few weeks and my first stop will be Carillon Park, the home of the original 1905 Wright Flyer.


There’s another book in my life – one that I haven’t read, but feels like a big elephant sitting in the corner of the room. Go Set a Watchman is causing me pain. I’m going to read it. I think.  I’ve read the reviews and know what’s waiting for me. I even listened to an hour-long discussion on WBUR’s On Point about the controversy. The guests made convincing arguments about a more realistic and complex view of Atticus, rather than the idealistic figure of To Kill a Mockingbird. That could be true, and I don’t shy away from complex characters – they’re my favorites. But I think I just need some time to sit with this one.  I’m having trouble squaring the Atticus who tells young Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”  with the Atticus who says: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

There are lots of books to read – the elephant can stay in its corner for now.



5 thoughts on “The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

  1. I heard McCullough interviewed on WBUR or WGBH in mid-May about his writing process – fascinating. I believe it is available on podcast if you want to listen! Meant to buy this book for my Dad for Father’s Day, but will add to my own bookshelf as well. Think I will not choose to read GSAW for now. Enjoy your trip to Ohio!

    • Hi Cathy,
      So nice to hear from you. And good idea about buying a copy for yourself. It is truly a fascinating human story much more than a technical airplane story! I hope you’re having a nice summer….

  2. You will be pleasantly surprised at how nice Carillon Park is now. When will you be in Dayton? I will be in town the weekend of Aug 8th if you are there I would love to see you and your sister, if only for a short time. It’s been forever since I’ve seen any of you!

    • Hi Carie,
      So happy to hear from you! I will not be in Dayton the weekend of August 8 – but you are right, it’s been too long! And I know what you
      mean about the murky situation surrounding the publication of Watchman. I just wish it would have stayed in her drawer!

  3. I am wrestling with reading ‘Go Set a Watchman’ myself. 1. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of my favorites and I just am afraid it will burst this bubble I’ve held for the book all these years. 2. And this one is the reason that is trumping #1, I’m not entirely certain that the release of the book is what Harper Lee really would have done in ‘sound’ mind. From reading articles, this release sounds like it is the desire of lawyers and publishing houses taking advantage of an elderly woman. It makes me feel kind of ‘dirty’ with the thought of reading it if she really didn’t want people to see it.

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