Monday Book Review

Jack’s guest Monday book review –

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone (Ballantine; 2015)

Well – my guilty secret was bound to come out eventually! I am an aviation nut, from my teenage years building flying models for competition, through a wonderfully memorable gliding vacation in Yorkshire, and on up to re-discovering the delights of model building in my retirement.

I have a particular love of planes from the early days of aviation – the glorified box-kites, with barely enough power to sustain them flown by intrepid heroes who learned through trial and (often fatal) error.

I really thought I had a good handle on the history of those times, but Goldstone reveals a story of rivalry and pig-headedness that almost defies belief!

Everyone knows, of course, that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first men to design and fly successfully a heavier than air flying machine with the means of controlling its path through the air. What most folk don’t necessarily know, however, is how much they owed to other contemporary pioneers. They communicated regularly with Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley among others, incorporating many of their ideas into the design of their ‘Flyers’. Finally, they had the work of the German designer Otto Lilienthal to draw on – particularly with regard to weight distribution and the curved airfoil needed to generate lift.


A Wright Flyer in France frightening the horses.

Sadly, the Wrights came to believe that because they were the first to successfully demonstrate flight by a heavier than air machine, they were entitled to royalty payments on every other machine made by anyone after that. It didn’t matter to them if the designs were radically different from theirs – the mere fact that it could fly meant to them that the principles they pioneered were being unfairly utilized.

The pursuit of an ever growing number of law suits against other plane manufacturers quickly began to consume all their energies, and meant that they didn’t have any left to spend improving and developing their designs. The most famous dispute was with the other great American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and this one probably contributed to Wilbur’s early death. Worn out by all the court appearances he succumbed to typhoid. Orville lasted longer but didn’t have the same drive as his brother, either to improve the planes or to pursue the litigation.

H-8 1916 r r

The Curtiss H8 in a 1916 demonstration.

Goldstone, in this book, argues that because of all the disputes and court cases the fledgling aircraft industry in the US fell behind those in other countries – particularly France, Britain and Germany. He maintains that it wasn’t until some years after the end of WW1 that America began to catch up with the others.

For anyone with an interest in early aviation and ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ this is a must read. At least five thumbs up!

15 thoughts on “Monday Book Review

  1. Just a quick comment from the Overlea Goat Herder on the early flying machines …I have visited Kitty Hawk and Overlea where I was born and lived my entire life is about 10 Miles from the Glen L Martin Air Port…and been to the Museum located at the old Manufacturing Building. I also Joined The Maryland Air National Guard and worked as a full time Technician as a member of the Fighter unit stationed at that base. the reason for my comment is to mention that Glenn L was also an early innovator in Aviation history. I think two of his Mars Acft (the big birds that could land on water) are still flying on the west coast dropping water on forest fires…..

    On Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 12:29 PM, Wendy Welch, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap wrote:

    > wendywelch posted: “Jack’s guest Monday book review – Birdmen by Lawrence > Goldstone (Ballantine; 2015) Well – my guilty secret was bound to come out > eventually! I am an aviation nut, from my teenage years building flying > models for competition, through a wonderfully memora” >

    • Hi Everett – I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear, but Glenn very definitely was an early pioneer. Particularly (but not solely) with the first sea-planes. Thanks for your interesting comment.


  2. check these reviews……..I joke a lot but I do get serious at time….the only thing left on my bucket list in life…”TO VISIT YE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP”

  3. I liked the one that went out in New Youk city about the day the Giants and Dodgers about a famous base ball third basement who got injured….

  4. Why does all the bad news make the headlines and you never hear about the “GOOD GUYS” ? This is one of the good guys

  5. Thank you Roman…you are a faithful and thoughtful Christian friend…… we had many great years working to gather In the good olde Air Guard

    On Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 7:48 AM, ROMAN MECKEL wrote:

    > >

  6. Thank you neighbor for sending this to me… know I am in your corner…….I have been signing off on most of my e-mails the same way your years…

    Retired tired and retarded The old Overlea Goatherder In God We Trust God Bless American

    I am glad some one had the sense to tell it like it is. It is always good the hear from you, gal

  7. let me at em tell me who they are and i will choke them all to death no judge would sentence me to the electic chair and it would worth a short stay in a jail cell

  8. I have been screaming this since the night south Carolina came in for Trump the liberal press were actually crying I hope they continue to cry e-mail is a great way the spread “THE GOOD NEWS …Thank you Tom for sending this to me

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