Oh, “those magnificent men in their flying machines”!
National Book Award winner Sandler explores one brief but momentous week in the early history of aviation. Only about six years after the Wright brothers achieved their first 57-second flight, pilots from around the world gathered in Rheims, France, in August 1909 for the Champagne Region’s Great Aviation Week (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne). It was the first international air meet. Although the Wrights chose not to participate, the U.S. was well represented by Glenn Curtiss, whose limited experience matched that of other so-called veteran pilots of the era. They would all compete in their remarkably flimsy wood-and-fabric machines for a variety of large cash prizes, in the process captivating immense crowds and advancing aviation technology. The races are presented in thrilling detail and clearly placed in the context of the history of early aviation. A large collection of outstanding period photographs extends the tale. Unfortunately, in the midst of excellence, numerous additional topics, all about two pages long, are wedged in, nearly always interrupting the narrative midsentence—an annoying design flaw in this otherwise fine work. A final section provides a “postscript” of the lives, some sadly brief, of the aviators, mostly white and European, who participated at Rheims.
Fascinating, eminently entertaining, and sometimes frustrating.(further reading, websites, museums, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)