The Wright Brothers|David McCullough
The Wright Brothers
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#1 New York Times bestseller

Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot.

Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did?

David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly American story of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, and they never stopped reading.

When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no contacts in high places, never stopped them in their "mission" to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed.

In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.


  • ISBN-13: 9781476728742
  • ISBN-10: 1476728747
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publish Date: May 2015
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.55 pounds
  • Page Count: 336

The first family of flight

BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, May 2015

Nowadays, the title of a nonfiction book is almost invariably followed by a phrase hyping the contents, including words like incredible, survival or secret. No such subtitle is needed for two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough’s latest book, The Wright Brothers, even though it contains all three elements.

Of course, McCullough’s name alone virtually guarantees bestseller status. Author of Mornings on Horseback and The Path Between the Seas and acclaimed biographer of Harry Truman and John Adams, he has earned his reputation as one of the best (and most-read) historians of our time. By turning his attention to the two shy brothers from Dayton, Ohio, who pioneered the age of flight, he guarantees that millions will learn a story that is, well, incredible.

“Shy” doesn’t quite do justice to the brothers (an armchair psychiatrist would likely conclude that one or both had Asperger’s syndrome), but McCullough does his best to bring out the personalities of two men virtually indistinguishable in the public eye. (If you don’t know which brother was which, join the crowd.) For McCullough, it’s not all propellers, wind tunnels and sand dunes: By emphasizing the Wright family dynamics, with a particular focus on their father, Bishop Milton Wright, and ever-supportive sister, Katharine Wright, he humanizes their story and makes it more relatable.

As for the technical side, readers won’t be disappointed. McCullough traces the development of powered, piloted flight from the brothers’ earliest interest in a crude flying toy to hard-won success at Kitty Hawk. Amazingly, in hindsight, it was another five years after the historic Dec. 17, 1903, flights before the brothers achieved worldwide acclaim. McCullough is at his best recounting this period, when fish-out-of-water Wilbur travels to France to disprove the doubters and Orville almost loses his life in a crash near Washington, D.C.

The Wrights didn’t totally shun fame, but they didn’t chase it either. The story of the brothers’ single-minded quest to master the skies is a compelling one, made even more compelling by McCullough’s sure-handed storytelling skills. He knows the prose doesn’t need to soar—the brothers and their accomplishments provide all the soaring that’s necessary.


This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.