Mark’s #27 – The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

It is mind-boggling to fathom a world without flight, yet the opposite was true just over 100 years ago.   In typical compelling fashion, author and historian David McCullough transports his readers to the past as few can.

On December 17, 1903 the world had fundamentally changed… Wilbur and Orville Wright inaugurated the age of flight.  For most of us, this is about all we knew about those two brothers and their achievements.  Mcullough brings their lives, families, community, struggles, character, and determination to life.

I was fascinated by all that took place in the brother’s lives before, during, and after their invention became world renowned.  These are men worthy of American honor and imitation.  Though their mother died young, the brothers along with their sister Katherine, were raised to value hard work, reading, intellectual pursuits, honesty, and humility by their itinerant preacher father.  These qualities he instilled in his boys and daughter would all prove invaluable in their pursuit to be the first to the air.  They labored many years while others mocked them and constantly questioned their sanity and integrity.  When they were finally successful, though they tried repeatedly to sell their product to the U.S. government. However, the government balked and the brothers were forced to prove themselves and their machine overseas in France.

Here’s a few takeaways for me from the book:

The life of the mind matters – The brothers were surrounded by books on a wide range of topics, encouraged to read them, test them, and develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. These books spurned their love of study and drive to learn the physics of flight.

Dream impossible dreams – In a time when many said flight would be impossible, the brothers refused to embrace the accepted assumptions of their day.  Not only did they dream the impossible dream of flight, they dreamed that they would be the first to achieve.

Get your hands dirty – The brothers did not let their knowledge or their dreams stay only in their minds. They got their hands dirty almost every day for long hours tinkering, repairing, building, and engineering the various components of their flying machine for years on end.

Stay focused and stay humble – There was a burgeoning population of challengers that threatened both their claim to flight and the advancements in flight in the early years.  Add to this, the eventual worldwide hysteria and fame surrounding the Wright brothers, there were any number of distractions that could have derailed the brothers before they really got going.  Succumb to these challenges they did not, but rather their laser like focus and their grounded humility kept them on a life of continual growth and achievement.

If you’re a fan of history and innovation, you’ll want to read this book.

The Wright Brothers

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