The Wright Brothers

I have it on good authority that David McCullough is moving to my little town, which will cause the mean income of town authors to increase by approximately eleventy billion percent.  His latest book, The Wright Brothers, will certainly do nothing to harm his bank account.  Like all his books that I’ve read, it’s vivid and entertaining.  And the Wright brothers are a great story — how two self-taught Ohio bicycle mechanics solved the basic problems of heavier-than-air flight through sheer brilliance and amazingly hard work.

I have a minor complaint and a question.  First, I share with the Times reviewer the wish that McCullough had expanded his story, which basically stops at the point of the Wright brothers’ greatest triumph, and then just briefly sketches in the rest of their lives and the story of aviation after their triumph:

“In his brief epilogue, McCullough tells us that in the years leading up to his death, Wilbur was consumed by ‘business matters and acrimonious lawsuits.’ When I finished the book, I rushed to Wikipedia to find out more — and when a reader has to go to Wikipedia, he must be pretty hard up.”

And my question: how does a successful historian like McCullough decide what to write about?  There have been dozens of books about the Wright brothers, if McCullough’s bibliography is any guide.  Does he think the world needs a new one?  Did he uncover new source material?  Or (more likely) did he just feel like writing the story, because it’s the kind of story he likes to tell?  If that’s the answer, it’s fine by me.

Hardly a man is now alive…

This is the 240th anniversary of Paul Revere’s Ride.  Longfellow’s poem starts like this:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

It was written in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, so personal memory of the Revolution had just about died out.  The poem itself is pretty bad, but Longfellow did succeed in his aim of creating a national myth.  No one was building statues of Revere before Longfellow’s poem.

(“2010 NorthEnd Boston 4621037522” by Richard Wood from Tacoma, Washington, USA – Boston 2010-05-02-15. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

While I have your attention, let me recommend David Hackett Fisher’s book Paul Revere’s Ridewhich is just fabulous.