So the Wright Brothers were the first to fly? Au contraire, asserts Griffith in this rare portrait of a little-known (in this country, at least) early aviator.
An immensely popular figure in his day, the Brazilian-born Alberto Santos-Dumont invented a personal dirigible that he steered around the Eiffel Tower and drove out to run errands. Griffith’s prose isn’t always polished (“If Blériot succeeded to fly first….”), but her narrative makes her subject’s stature clear as she takes him from a luncheon with jeweler Louis Cartier, who invented the wristwatch to help his friend keep track of his time in the air, to his crowning aeronautical achievement in 1906: He beat out both the secretive Wrights and pushy rival Louis Blériot as the first to fly an aircraft that could take off and land on its own power. The author covers his career in more detail in a closing note (with photos), ascribing his eventual suicide in part to remorse that, instead of ushering in an era of peace as he had predicted, aircraft were being used in warfare. Montanari’s genteel pastel-and-chalk pictures of turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and Parisians don’t capture how much larger than life Santos-Dumont was, but they do succeed in helping Griffith bring him to American audiences.A generous spirit and penchant for grand gestures make him all the more worth knowing—particularly for American audiences unaware that there is any question about who was the first to fly. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 8-10)