To Conquer the Air

After reading David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, I was curious to learn more details about the invention of machine-powered human flight, so I read James Tobin’s To Conquer the Air.

McCullough’s book is more of a character study of the Wrights, including more details of their correspondence, particularly between family members, and providing a richer picture some chapters of their lives, particularly their time in Europe.

To Conquer the Air provides a richer context for the Wrights and their pursuit of flight, which I found very helpful and entertaining. The main characters were Samuel Langley, Alexander Graham Bell, and Glenn Curtiss, but many other characters were also fleshed out in more detail than in McCullough’s book. If anything, the extra context helps to emphasize how amazing the Wrights’ achievement was. While many others were pursuing flight with some limited success, the solutions that the Wrights came up with through research and experimentation led to such a superior result that no one could credibly question their accomplishment.

I’m glad I read both of these books, and I’m enjoying this “chain of books”, so I think I’ll keep it going. One of the character who caught my attention was Alexander Graham Bell. He seemed in moments to worry that inventing the telephone had been a stroke of luck, so he was eager to come up with another great invention, and he was fascinated by flight. He didn’t succeed, but he came across as an interesting and complicated character, so I’d like to learn more. I couldn’t find a biography on Amazon with a lot of reviews, so the next book in the chain is going to be Destiny of the Republic, in which he plays at least a minor role in trying to save James A. Garfield’s life.

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