I liked McCullough’s account of the Wright brothers a lot, but fact-wise did not get too much out of it since all of this ground had been covered in my previously-read To Conquer The Air.
One new facet that struck me on this reading of the story is how determined Wilbur was to not fly until everything was ready, no matter what/who was pressuring them. Multiple times in France and later famously at Ft. Myers near Washington, DC, many thousands of onlookers, dignitaries, and even royalty gathered hoping to see a flight, only to wait all day and be disappointed when Wilbur judged the weather or the airplane not quite right yet. The mechanics assigned to help Wilbur with the Flyer in Le Mans were amazed how he insisted on inspecting and doing much of the work himself. Very high standards in this regard led to a remarkable safety record for the Wrights. The one major accident, where Orville crashed and Lt. Selfridge was killed, took place while Wilbur was away in France…I wonder if Orville let the crowds pressure him more than Wilbur did, and thus he failed to notice a crack or weakening of the propeller which eventually broke in mid-air.
Once again, I am amazed how nobody believed that they were really flying despite numerous eyewitnesses at Huffman Prairie. I guess it gave all the more wonder and glory when they finally showed the world nearly simultaneously at Le Mans in France (Wilbur) and Ft. Myers in the US (Orville).
I think it would be fun to do a Wright Brothers-focused tour someday – Dayton, Kitty Hawk, Ft. Myers, maybe New York; then Le Mans and Pau in France followed perhaps by Rome and Berlin.
Wilbur’s early death at age 45 in 1912 from typhoid fever is sad … but at the same time, it seemed like his work was complete – the world knew flight was possible and the new age of aviation had begun – and thus the main actor freely exited stage left with characteristic humility.
I would have been bored to tears with this one if it wasn’t for McCullough’s great writing style. As it is, that barely made it tolerable … almost completely uninteresting subject matter as far as I am concerned. A bunch of Americans spent time studying or making art in Paris. There’s not much tying all their random experiences together. Kind of a unique take on history – the story of a single city from the perspective of a single class of individual. But anyway, I didn’t really enjoy it nearly as much as McCullough’s other books. Didn’t really see the point.
There are some items of interest, however. One is Samuel Morse, of telegraph fame. He was an accomplished painter, working in Paris. He became inspired by the French semaphor flag telegraphy relay system and figured out how to make it work with an electric line. Right there is one benefit of travel and seeing different ways of doing things. (Sidenote on “diversity” — I think the diversity that is important and needed is such diversity of ideas, not necessarily of race or other classifications.) But then again, I also think the world is much smaller now that it used to be, and becoming more homogenous by the day. Is there anything to be gained from travel in 2015 as there was in 1815? Is it all just a bunch of tourist traps?
Second interesting bit was about the heroics of Elihu Washburne during the Prussian Siege and the Commune. Not fun times to be in Paris, but Washburne served his role as American diplomat with courage and honor.
Audio, abridged version. (I really dislike abridged books, especially of someone like McCullough! Inadvertently selected this version. Needless to say I was very perplexed when about 1/3 through, the [decent] male narrator’s voice was replaced by some monotone woman … luckily just to bridge the gap, so to speak.)
I like Roosevelt. I like his “take the bull by the horns” approach to life. He is so … genuine. He knows what’s what and is not afraid to tell you about it or even die for it.
I read another TR biography some years before starting this blog. McCullough’s version is kind of different from that more general biography in that it focuses solely on his early life, pretty much before his involvement in politics on a national scale. TR came from wealth and because of that had a lot of freedom. No formal schooling, just tutors and direct exploration-style learning during his family’s year-long trips to Europe or Egypt. At the same time, he and his family had a lot of health challenges to deal with — money can’t buy everything. I sensed a lot of love in his family. His father, Theodore Sr., was a pretty great man in his own right. It’s kind of sad how unremembered he is, even if it is mainly due to the oversized shadow of his son.
I still cry a little when I hear about Theodore’s reaction on the day both his wife and mother died: “The light has gone out of my life.”