SKYLARK by Howard Mansfield


The Life, Lies, and Inventions of Harry Atwood
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The bizarre life of a daredevil pioneer pilot, trained in the Wright Brothers” school, who became a visionary inventor, entrepreneur, spellbinding salesman of possibilities rather than solid achievements, showman, engineer (MIT), manipulator of trusting investors” vanishing capital, liar, and deadbeat, of whom it was said he spent more time in bankruptcy court than in church. Mansfield (In the Memory House, not reviewed, etc.) attempts to bring to life a complex, extraordinary personality in rapidly changing times of developing technology. Few early pilots (1908—11) died a natural death as they sought to understand and master aerodynamics, changing winds that threatened the stability of flimsy biplanes, and temperamental engines suddenly losing power. Atwood often risked death as he learned by trial and error. To maintain a precarious living, barnstorming aviators became daring stuntmen in a circus atmosphere of cheering crowds at state fairs. The restless Atwood showed great imagination and worked many hours to gain hundreds of patents. To attract research money, he wove together truth and lies with partial successes and failures. Mansfield writes of Atwood’s wealth and poverty succeeding each other as he strove to become the Henry Ford of aviation—designing, manufacturing, and selling his product. During WWII he contributed to the famous Higgins boat, essential in invasions that helped to achieve victory. He also led a complicated private life, marrying five times and becoming an adoring yet despotic father, walking away from his children for extensive periods. Before dying at 83, Atwood had a warm reunion with his family, long scattered by geography and time. Mansfield likens Atwood to the skylark, because he had the instincts of a bird flying as high as he could in a kind of limitless space. A large slice of America’s not-well-known past and of an eccentric genius who helped develop modern aircraft. A well- researched, honest evaluation of a man and his times.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-87451-891-1
Page count: 324pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999