Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention
by Peter L. Jakab
Smithsonian Institution,262 pp., $16.95 (paper)
Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity through the First World War
by Richard P. Hallion
Oxford University Press, 531 pp., $35.00
To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
by James Tobin
Free Press, 430 pp., $28.00
Progress in Flying Machines
by Octave Chanute
Dover, 308 pp., $10.95 (paper)
Les Avions de la Grande Galerie
Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace
Aéroport du Bourget, 80 pp., E7.65
The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age
by Tom D. Crouch and Peter L. Jakab
Smithsonian/National Geographic, 240 pp., $35.00
First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane
by T.A. Heppenheimer
Wiley, 394 pp., $30.00
The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright
edited by Peter L. Jakab and Rick Young
Smithsonian Institution, 316 pp., $49.95
How We Invented the Airplane: An Illustrated History
by Orville Wright, edited by Fred C. Kelly
Dover, 87 pp., $9.95
Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight
by Paul Hoffman
Theia, 369 pp., $24.95
Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane
by Seth Shulman
HarperCollins, 258 pp., $25.95
Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight
by William Langewiesche
Pantheon, 240 pp., $24.00
No Visible Horizon: Surviving the World’s Most Dangerous Sport
by Joshua Cooper Ramo
Simon and Schuster, 273 pp., $24.00
North Star over My Shoulder: A Flying Life
by Bob Buck
Simon and Schuster, 446 pp., $26.00
Once in a faraway land bounded on all sides by a treacherous river, the King became unusually restless. He was sure that the pastures and the savannas on the other side of the river were more fertile than his. But no one knew how to cross those turbulent waters. The King decreed a great reward of cattle and sheep to be reserved for whoever devised a way to cross the river.
The King’s chief sorcerer in all his regalia, accompanied by his apprentices, announced that he had discovered a magic spell that would force the river god Kol to carry him across the river. The sorcerer climbed to the summit of the sacred rock that rose beside the river. All day and all night his apprentices chanted and danced and brandished torches. At last the sorcerer screamed and leaped from the rock. His long robes floated behind him. Kol seemed to be wafting him toward the other shore. But the sorcerer fell like a stone and hit the surface of the river with a mighty splash. He disappeared. But some said later they saw him climb out on the far side.
The next day two young brothers, bow-and-arrow makers, arrived from a distant region. O King, said the two brothers, we shall cross the river. Leave us alone tonight on the bank so that no one will steal our magic. In the morning, the King saw the two brothers walking peacefully on the far side. A stout rope reached from one side to the other, strong enough for a man to climb along it. The two brothers came back by the rope and claimed the prize and became great heroes.
Soon emissaries arrived from another region. They said the brothers were very clever but those two did not invent the rope bridge. Others had been working on such a scheme long before the brothers came along. But the brothers wouldn’t go away and they wouldn’t show their rope magic to anyone else. Had they really made the rope?
The people were dissatisfied. Who had crossed the river first? Was it workers in another region of the land who knew about ropes? Or the sorcerer whose magic was very strong? Or the bow-and-arrow-making brothers who were so clever and who made claims about their own magic?
The King stayed many hours with his counselors. Then, at a great ceremonial feast he announced his decision. In the morning he had seen only the two brothers on the opposite shore, not the sorcerer and not the rope workers. Therefore the reward belonged rightfully to the brothers. Even if they had not invented the rope bridge, they had used it first. And so the matter was settled, and the brothers earned a place in history. The others were forgotten.
This artless parable comes uncannily close to recapitulating the early history of manned flight. The King embodies the nineteenth-century imperative for mechanical invention. The sorcerer reenacts the story of Samuel P. Langley …