“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Wright Brothers
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When you think of the Wright Brothers you think of the guys who flew the first plane and were the key pioneers in the development of flight. You may also get an image in your mind of that particular biplane depicted on the cover of David McCullough’s new book, The Wright Brothers.

It was on a winter’s day in North Carolina that the two brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully completed the first manned flight and created history. But what were the events that led up to this historic moment? David McCullough is a skilled historian when it comes to covering renowned people, and in this relatively short 336-page book — for McCullough — he does an excellent job of covering the Wrights’ story from birth to death.

He begins with the family moving to Dayton and how the brothers, in addition to spending most of their time together, were workaholics who worked Monday to Saturday, and then after church on Sunday, spent their time working around the house. When they were together, no problem could go unsolved with them putting their minds together. One of their early businesses was a bicycle company, with the growing popularity of this mode of transportation, which became extremely successful and profitable with the sale of bikes, as well as repairing.

As their obsession with flight grew and developed, they would spend summers in Kittyhawk, working on their planes, subsidized by the profits from their bicycle business, which they would run during the rest of the year. Their sister, Katharine, soon joined the team and became an inseparable member until the later years of their lives, traveling with them around the world and helping with the administrative side of the business.

McCullough does a fantastic job of pulling from multiple primary sources to shape the story of this unique family, with diary entries, letters, articles and numerous photos. He doesn’t just tell the story of flight, but shows the full lives of the Wrights; how they interacted with each other and lived their daily lives. McCullough makes the Wrights feel like real people, making their achievements all the more incredible. The key point the author makes repeatedly is that the Wright brothers were the ultimate American entrepreneurs, with no training or experience, but simply taught themselves, using a process of trial and error, until they made a contraption that could lift off from the ground and fly through the air for an extended amount of time, making the crucial foundation for flight that has led to the magnificent jet engines crossing the skies today.

Originally written on July 10, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“John Adams” by David McCullough (Simons & Schuster, 2001)

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When it comes to the business of writing American history, two names that rank high are Stephen E. Ambrose and David McCullough, though there are some very important differences between these two authors who profess to report history as it really happened.  Stephen E. Ambrose is currently up on charges of plagiarism, while David McCullough won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography Truman, and he has just won it again this year for John Adams.  To receive such a prestigious awards tells one that McCullough is definitely doing something right.

And in John Adams he certainly doesn’t hold back, as the reader is transported to within the confines of John Adams’ mind, as the reader is taken on a journey that he or she has never taken before with the second president of the United States.  Much is revealed about Adams’s life that wasn’t so widely known before: his beginning friendship with a man known as Thomas Jefferson, and how the two eventually became enemies, Adams’s courageous trek over the Pyrenees, and how in the winter of 1778 his voyage on the frigate Boston is one to shock all.

The audiobook is read with the commanding deep tones of Edward Herrmann, one cannot help but get caught up in the complete history of this man who is forever remembered in history, but revealed in a completely new light for the first time under the skillful penmanship of David McCullough.

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Originally published in June/July 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.