This is a scrupulously detailed, colorful portrait of not only the somewhat enigmatic Dayton bicycle manufacturers who first mastered powered flight but of the world of dedication, delusion, and duplicity through which they occasionally stumbled and frequently soared on their way to international fame. The product of 15 years of research by a scholar who has been an aeronautics librarian in the Library of Congress as well as editor of several scientific journals, this will be referred to as a sourcebook for years to come. Repressed, prickly in their relationships with those they saw as rivals, circumscribed by the rigid tenets of the Protestant work ethic, the Wright Brothers are not the most endearing of American heroes. The fact that Howard is able to engage and, more importantly, to retain the reader's interest in their exploits attests to his powers as a writer. If the brothers' personalities were less than scintillating, the supporting cast of characters in their drama more than makes up for the deficiency. There is Augustus M. Herring, for example, a charlatan of Dickensian proportions whose interest in aeronautics seems particularly appropriate since he was himself the quintessential windbag. Then there is Thomas Scott Baldwin, described by Howard as ""something of a snake-oil salesman;"" who promoted ballooning as a sure-fire cure for rheumatism, mental depression, and diseases of the lungs. The text is dotted with just such details that do much to leaven the sometimes ""heavier-than-air"" recitals of patent-infringement litigations, discussions of wingwarping and torsional wings, speculations on just who did or did not contribute what to aeronautical science--and when. About as complete a record of the mastery of the air during the first decades of this century as we are likely to get for some time, told with loving attention to detail and a welcome eye for the bizarre and the outrageous. A superbly organized collection of notes, an excellent bibliography, and 16 pages of vintage black-and-white photographs (not seen) flesh out the text.