An earthbound account by Biddle (Coming to Terms, 1981) of the intrepid souls whose soaring aspirations helped launch a multinational aerospace industry. Biddle's attempt to combine institutional history with individual biography never quite gets off the ground, in large measure because of his insistence on portraying American aviation's pioneers as dependents of the government in general and the military in particular. At any rate, in this selectively detailed overview of US aeronautics from the Wright brothers' landmark flight through the early post-WW II era, the former New York Times correspondent singles out a handful of visionary aircraft makers and the corporations they created. Their ranks encompass the likes of Glenn Martin (an up-from- the-fairgrounds barnstormer), Jack Northrup (an intuitive technical genius with a flair for breakthrough designs), Donald Douglas (whose DC-3 was for many years the workhorse of the global village's skies), and Robert Gross (the East Coast investment banker who made a go, under the Lockheed banner, of the bankrupt business begun by the brothers Loughead). Also covered, albeit in cursory fashion, are such founding fathers as Boeing, Curtiss, and Grumman. In aid of his arguable premise that American aviation was ever an enterprise that could not survive, much less thrive, without substantive government support, Biddle goes out of his way to show how trailblazing airmen accepted, even solicited, federal patronage. At several points, he speculates portentously on the probable state of the aeronautics art, absent hot and cold wars. Ultimately, Biddle determines his subjects were neither merchants of death nor the paragons of technical progress depicted in their promotional literature. Unfortunately, that conclusion is lost in the shuffle of an accentuate-the-negative narrative that shortchanges at almost every turn aviation's avant-garde and its genuine contributions. (Twenty-four pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: June 28, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-66726-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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