BIRDMEN by Lawrence Goldstone


The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies
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At the dawn of powered flight, the warfare for the air was as intense, if not as sanguinary, as war in the air would one day become.

Goldstone—author or co-author of more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction titles (Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1965–1903, 2010, etc.)—returns with a story little known to those unversed in aviation history: the battle Orville and Wilbur Wright fought with Glenn Curtiss to dominate the aviation market in the early years of the 20th century. Both would win and lose. After a brief prologue, Goldstone returns to the early theories and attempts at manned flight—Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo have cameos. The author then leaps to the late 19th century, then swiftly to Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers would achieve their immortality in 1903. He takes us through their design innovations and their false starts and hopes, and despite his patent admiration for the brothers, Goldstone also describes a surprising intransigence and even truculence in them. He then shifts focus to Curtiss (and ping-pongs back and forth between his two subjects the rest of the way), who was a brilliant designer, as well. The author describes the controversy between his two principals: Early in their relationship, a relationship that moved from amicable to hostile, did Curtiss steal ideas? The author then glides above history, directing our attention to the phenomenon of the air show, aerial competitions, the innovations in design, the crashes, the deaths and the slow emergence of women aviators. He also describes the grotesque determination of spectators to retrieve pieces of wreckage, even moments after a fatal crash. The Wright brothers became embroiled in countless lawsuits with Curtiss and others as history inevitably flew away from them.

A powerful story that contrasts soaring hopes with the anchors of ego and courtroom.

Pub Date: May 6th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-345-53803-1
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2014


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