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The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur & Orville Wright
The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur & Orville Wright
Noah Adams
Crown, 2003
240 pp., $22.00

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Albert Louis Zambone

The Wright Brothers and the World they made

The wind is a physical presence on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is a shaping force, bending trees into gentle yet permanent curves, inexorably moving sand dunes into ever-greater heaps, and bringing the surf closer each year to both summer mini-mansions and trailer parks. Above the great sand-dune optimistically called Kill Devil Hill, a vast truncated Art Deco obelisk resists that steady wind—a power so formidable that when construction began on the obelisk in 1927, the hill had already moved a third of a mile since the Wright Brothers began to experiment with gliders on its slopes in the autumn of 1901.

In 1900, Wilbur Wright, with the intimidating meticulousness that he and his brother Orville brought to every task that confronted them, found in a chart of wind tables that the weather station at Kill Devil Hill had the steadiest continual winds of any station in the eastern United States. He and Orville decided that this remote section of the North Carolina coast was the perfect spot to perform the glider experiments which they confidently believed would lead to the first powered flight in human history.

The result is, on all levels, one of the great American stories. It combines populism, entrepreneurship, sports, Christianity, the march of progress, mechanical tinkering, France, moralizing, technology, and lawsuits. As a bonus, the story concludes with the complete reshaping of the world, both physically and mentally.

Of the many books being released in this centennial year to mark the Wright Brothers' achievement, the one that best captures this wonderful all-American chili of a story is James Tobin's To Conquer the Air. T.A. Heppenheimer is an experienced aviation writer who tells the technical side of the story with meticulous care, but his account lacks Tobin's historical perspective and literary verve. On the far end of the spectrum is Noah Adams' The Flyers, subtitled "In Search of Wilbur and Orville Wright," a gooey, self-indulgent search for contemporary ...

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