The Wright Brothers is the #1 New York Times bestseller from David McCullough. He has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other widely praised books are 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and The Johnstown Flood. He has been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.



The Wright Brothers…is the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly—Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

In this “enjoyable, fast-paced tale” (The Economist), master historian David McCullough “shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly” (The Washington Post) and “captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished” (The Wall Street Journal). He draws on the extensive Wright family papers to profile not only the brothers but their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them. Essential reading, this is “a story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency…about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished…The Wright Brothers soars” (The New York Times Book Review)


Study Questions

1. Talk about the Wright family circle. To what extent are all of us shaped by our own family?
2. How were the brothers similar – different?
3. The brothers accomplished a lot. What part was intelligence, perseverance, focus, energy, imagination, luck?
4. How was Wilbur Wright influenced by his visits to the Louvre?
5. Why were the brothers dismissed in the U.S. while embraced in France?
6. The brothers displayed few emotions. How did this behavior influence the author’s telling of their story?
7. How did hardships influence outcome?
8. What did you learn about these men?
9. What would astonish you now the way these men flying impacted the reporters who watched early demonstrations?
10. Were the brothers compensated fairly?
(modified from Litlovers)



The discussion of this book quickly turned into a “love fest”. The ten members present were enthusiastic in their praise. A member said that this is a book she never would have read had it not been a book club selection. Her comment was, “I’m so happy I read the book; I loved it”. When we finished our discussion and before we selected the next book we gave this book a grade. There were seven 10’s, one 9.9, one 9, and a 10/6 (The reader gave one grade for the writing and the second for the overly technical descriptions). Pretty amazing – good scores I would say.

We all knew that the Wright brothers were the first to successfully fly a heavier than air machine with a pilot on board. Others had attempted, but it was Wilbur and Orville who succeeded. They were described as working with a dedication and zeal that amazed all the readers who were getting to know the brothers for the first time. And they never worked on Sundays. Most thought that their father the Bishop was a positive influence, but not a person who interfered.

The boys had a strong family and home life, especially enriched by their sister Katherine. It was pointed out that at the time this was common. Their mother died early but the way she was described made it seem that Wilbur and Orville had inherited many of her positive traits.

The brothers loved Paris, especially Wilbur, and Paris loved them. They were described as serious and dedicated, but their social graces were evident and appreciated. They were admired by women and the brothers appreciated them, but they didn’t have time.

The book revealed the competition the brothers dealt with and especially the obstruction from the Smithsonian’s Langley who was pursuing flight himself but unsuccessfully. This may be the reason the brothers became famous in France before they were feted at home.

During their years of travail that met success as well as failure the brothers never sought gifts or handouts. Any money they received, they earned or won as a well-earned prize.

The Wright brothers were clearly the first in flight and David McCullough presented their story with a beautifully written and carefully researched book which is an important addition to American history.



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