The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"As he did so brilliantly in THE GREAT BRIDGE and THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS, David McCullough once again tells a dramatic story of people and technology, this time about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly, Wilbur and Orville Wright"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476728742
Branch Call Number: B Wright
Characteristics: 320 pages, [48] pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm


Featured Blogs and Events

Kitty Hawk, 1903: Celebrating the Wright Brothers

Kitty Hawk, 1903: Wright Brothers and the History of the First Flight   December 17 marks the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' successful attempt to pilot their flying machine. In 1903, the Wright Brothers had developed a machine capable of sustained powered flight. Orville and Wilbur owned a shop where they ran a printing press, and later, maintained and produced bicycles. Much of… (more)

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 20, 2019

One example of nobility of character --- with a keen sense of diplomacy and tact --- of the Wright Brothers was shared on page 250 (Part III., Chapter 11, "Causes for Celebration") with the brothers' attempt to patch-up a falling out they had with Octave Chanute, a French-born American civil engineer, whose gliders were his specialty.

McCullough writes (in pertinent part), "Plainly wishing the dispute to be resolved", Wilbur Wright wrote to Octave Chanute, 'If anything can be done to straighten matters out to the satisfaction of both you and us, we are not only willing but anxious to do our part . . . We have no wish to quarrel with a man toward whom we ought to preserve a feeling for gratitude.'
* * * * *
'We prize too highly the friendship which meant so much in the years of our early struggles to willingly see it worn away by uncorrected misunderstandings, which might be corrected by a frank discussion.'"

Oct 13, 2019

In April, we took our first trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We stayed in a cottage in Kill Devil Hills, just a few blocks from the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Perhaps like most, my knowledge of Wilbur and Orville Wright was pretty superficial. I knew they were from Dayton, Ohio, opened a bicycle shop at the dawn of the two-wheeled craze, became fascinated with man’s attempts to fly, set off for Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to try their own hand at flight, and became the first to successfully man sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine.

Set atop Kill Devil Hill, the once-shifting sand dune from which the brothers made many of their glider tests, the Memorial Tower at Wright Brothers National Memorial is both beautiful and impressive. While the Tower was dedicated in 1932, the Visitor Center wasn’t constructed until the late 1950s. Breaking with the Park Service’s earlier, more traditional buildings, it is a wonderful specimen of mid-century modern design. Even more wonderful, however, is what’s housed inside. Brimming with artifacts, models, actual tools, a reproduction of the wind tunnel the brothers built to test wing shapes, a portion of the engine used in the first flight, full-scale replicas of the 1902 glider and the history-making 1903 Wright Flyer (the original is on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., which I’ve also been to), and an abundance of photographs and educational panels that bring their story to life.

As you might expect, the Visitor Center couldn’t possibly tell the whole story, but as a primer on the Wright Brothers it did its job perfectly. I was keen to learn more. Luckily, while browsing at The Bird Store, a wildlife gallery in the Outer Banks (where I also bought a beautiful wood carving of a long-billed curlew), I came across a used hardback copy of David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers.” I’d never read McCullough before, though I knew he’d written Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies on Harry S. Truman and John Adams, and that the latter was turned into an HBO miniseries that I thoroughly enjoyed. So, reputation fully preceding him, I dove into his account of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

As pure story — from bicycles to gliders to aeroplanes; from Dayton to Kitty Hawk and back, and back, and back once more; from tests and trials well out of public view to exhibitions in France, Italy, Germany, Washington, D.C., and New York City where they amazed and delighted the public, silenced their skeptics, and took the world by storm with their feats of flight — “The Wright Brothers” is a spirited page-turner. As a biography, McCullough shows his considerable skill, weaving narrative, family correspondence, and written records with his own deep understanding of the country and the era. As subject matter, however, the brothers themselves fall a bit short. True, they were driven, steadfast, indefatigable, and, in many ways, genius. But they were also old-fashioned, reticent, and, at least as painted here, largely one-dimensional. So single-minded were they in their pursuit (Wilbur’s love of the Louvre a rare outlier) that even their significant setbacks — life-threatening illness, failed experiments, and near-fatal crashes — don’t manage to create much in the way of drama.

And maybe that’s okay. After all, their story, their success, has an air of inevitability. Theirs is the story of America, of Manifest Destiny, writ small, fully conceived in two plain, hardworking, virtuous Midwesterners. What Wilbur and Orville Wright may have lacked in personality or well-rounded interests, they made up for a hundredfold with their achievements. Perhaps the real lesson the brothers have to teach us is this: if they could do it — without formal training, without high school diplomas, and with little more than curiosity, gumption, and can-do attitude — you can, too. What are you waiting for?

IndyPL_SteveB Jul 14, 2019

An admiring and fascinating biography of the inventors of the airplane by one of our great American historians. I really didn’t have a full appreciation of how much original research and invention the brothers had done until this book. McCullough notes that the brothers financed their own research and construction, only spending about one thousand dollars total in five years to build the first Wright Flyer, *including* three trips to Kitty Hawk. McCullough relies heavily on the Wright Brothers own correspondence, as well as news accounts of the time and appreciations by contemporaries. When they first became interested in flight, they were highly successful bicycle mechanics and developers in Dayton, Ohio. They were given much information by the Smithsonian Museum; but when they built their first glider, they discovered that most of what was “known” was wrong. They constructed a wind tunnel to research wing construction and then built an aluminum block engine for the most power for weight. As they became world celebrated, they never changed their modest ways.

Very entertaining and you will likely develop a new appreciation for one of the greatest American feats of invention.

Oct 13, 2018

Wow! and it only took another 78 years from the first flights of the Wright Brothers until the first launch of NASA's Space Shuttle "Columbia"!! This is the first book that I have completely read since I left college back in 1990. I rate it as ***** five-stars and can easily compare it to Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" and the saga of achieving flight in space. I truly loved the story that David McCullough wrote for us and it can be inspirational to the younger crew.. believe in your self and those around you, never let anyone say "that you can't do that!", prove them wrong and do what ever your imagination will allow you to do. Don't let jealous naysayers take away your energy.
The Aviation/Aeronautical/Astro-Physics world needs more great thinkers. GO FOR IT!!!

Aug 25, 2018

Long a fan of David McCullough I looked forward to reading this book and while I thought it very good and really did enjoy it I wouldn’t rate it up there with his Panama Canal or Truman top shelf efforts. Also it’s much shorter than other titles I’ve read. The books conclusion left me wanting to know much more beyond 1910 or 1912. He certainly included histories beyond those dates but I know there’s much, much more to learn as Orville lived until 1948. I’m hoping to locate author Fred Howard’s book on the same subject entitled Wilbur and Orville : A Biography of the Wright Brothers. Mr. Howard worked at the Library of Congress and was involved in research and editing the Wright Brother papers. Reviews of his book look are good and my understanding is it continues in depth well past Wilbur’s death in 1912 where Mr. McCullough’s book is brief in my opinion. Still I ready did enjoy David McCullough’s book and highly recommend it.

RogerDeBlanck Jun 30, 2018

Proving again why he remains among the world’s preeminent historians, McCullough delivers another outstanding book, this time a splendid biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright. In addition to the excitement generated around the brothers’ ingenuity as the first to design a “flying machine,” their story is most inspirational for how self-taught and determined they were in accomplishing their dream. McCullough sets the narrative at a thrilling pace. He moves seamlessly from the brothers’ upbringing in the thriving town of Dayton, Ohio to the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where they practiced their initial flights and then to their travels abroad in France where they showcased their flying talents.

In charting the brothers’ innovations, McCullough has the ability to cover the science of aeronautics in an understandable way. He shows how brilliant the brothers were in putting their minds to the task of overcoming one obstacle after another, all of which had stumped aviation inventors for decades. As lifelong learners with a zeal for discovery, the brothers went from building their own bicycles to studying birds to finally developing the first airplane. Their success had a distinctly family influence as both their father and sister, Katharine, played vital roles in encouraging them every step of the way. The brothers’ courage and perseverance resonate throughout the book, and their achievements leave you feeling uplifted with hope for what humanity can achieve through the power of resilience and hard work.

CMLibrary_sally Oct 04, 2017

Full of facts and details, this book shares an in-depth look at the brothers and their mission to fly.

CircMary Aug 01, 2017

I was soaring through the sky and tinkering with the plane in the bicycle shop with the Wright Brothers and their sister; I was in the crowd that saw the first airplane fly over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. No one can put you right there like David McCullough. This was my favorite read of 2016.

May 14, 2017

If you want to know how little you know about the Wright Brothers, this is the book to read. I found it fascinating about how much more flying both in the US and in Europe that the brothers did, as well as their close relationship with their spinster sister and their father as well as two other brothers.

Dec 24, 2016

Everyone knows about the flight at Kitty Hawk. I had no idea about what happens afterwards. Very well written book and enjoyable read.

View All Comments


Add a Summary
Dec 27, 2020

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.

Oct 01, 2016

Excellent description of a shy, cheerful, optimistic, entrepreneural, mechanical, sensitive man with ingenuity who worked with his brother and never gave up in adveristy. The best dividends come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power. So many lessons in this book. The power of family who encouraged reading and intellectual curiosity. The power of the work ethic. Excellent book.


Add Age Suitability
Jun 06, 2015

wordsmithwannabe thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


Add a Quote
Jun 06, 2015

No bird soars in a calm. (Wilbur Wright)


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at STPL

To Top