If you have ever wondered what it was like to be an inventor only one hundred years into the Industrial Revolution, then To Conquer The Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight is a “must read” for you. Tobin goes far beyond just relaying a factual account of the Wright brother’s race for flight. In the centennial year of this historic event, Tobin brings this whole era of progress back to life.
Immaculate in his rendition of the 1900’s, Tobin gives an almost daily chronicle of the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright from the time they conceived the idea of flight, through to its glorious realization. Tobin writes with such insight and description that the reader / listener can practically see the early streets, the tailored clothes, the old steamer trunks being loaded onto passenger vessels—the only means of crossing the ocean back then.) You can picture the antiquated printing presses and telegraph stations—you can picture, explicitly, the headlines!
To Conquer The Air first introduces you to the wonderfully inquisitive minds of two young American men from the mid-western town of Dayton, Ohio. It weaves you into their modest lives, at 7 Hawthorn Street, where they live quietly with their preacher father, devoted sister, Kate, a bicycle business, and dreams of flight.
As they tinker with building implements (toys) that imitate birds flying through the air, the articulate engineering skills of the brothers begins to reveal the actual possibility of a man-made craft doing the same…flying like a bird.
With the seriousness of this possibility in hand, the brothers (in their typical modesty), tiptoe forth into the world outside of Dayton starting with written inquiries. They soon find themselves in (with all four feet) a full-fledged passionate race that spans the next ten years and finds them traveling to the North Carolina coast, and crossing back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean much like they used to go across town.
They find Samuel Langley, of the Smithsonian Institute, and his assistant, Charles Manly, who are also obsessed with flight. They learn that a handful of others are too, in America as well as in Europe. Langley has the financial backing of the US government and the Smithsonian. The Wright brothers have little cash to play with. By the time the Wright’s calculate a $1,000 investment, which is already stressing the household, Langley and Manly have gone through about $70,000 without feeling a pinch.
Tobin covers the years (1903-1910), and all the people involved (from Langley to Alexander Graham Bell, Octavo Chanute to Santos Demonte, Glen Curtis, military persons, political heads, etc.) with extraordinary detail. He garnered facts, figures, moods and attitudes, motives and ulterior motives that make this book an all-encompassing account of these times.
Tobin covers the politicking, the legal struggles, the failures, and the triumphs. His research and writing about the actual mechanics each of the inventors employed to raise a machine into the air is remarkable. This book could have been called “Absolutely Everything You Need or Want to Know About Building a Small Aero plane Before Anybody Else!” Even descriptions of the weather, the sky, and the landscape are extremely articulate. Perhaps, sometimes, even a bit overdone.
If you like factual accounts of real human achievements, told in story form and capturing the spirit of the people and the time, you will love this amazing tale.
Boyd Gaines is easy to listen to. He gets the pronunciation of intricate French names and accents well…better, most likely, than they have been spelled here!