How did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb boHow did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb book, "The Wright Brothers". Wilbur and Orville grew up in a family that loved learning. They were also very intelligent, focused, persistent, and hard working. The brothers owned a bicycle shop, possessed exceptional mechanical ability, and designed their own bicycles. They were interested in flight, and gazed at birds for hours to study how wings were tilted to catch the air before they set up their first experiments. They had caught the spirit of invention that was prevalent in America at the turn of the century.
In 1900, they flew their first glider which was funded from sales of their bicycles. In 1903, the first motorized plane carrying a pilot was flown on the sandy Outer Banks of North Carolina. The brothers not only built the plane, but also had to build a shed for storage and housing, and dig a well to obtain fresh water. They faced dark swarms of mosquitoes, sandstorms, and freezing temperatures in the Outer Banks. They risked their lives, and Orville was seriously injured in 1908. France was the first country to embrace the Wright brothers, and a good portion of the book is about their work there.
The book includes many photographs, and quotes from letters from the brothers to family and others. In addition to being a good historian, author David McCullough is also an exciting storyteller. He really brought the personalities and endeavors of the Wright brothers alive for the reader....more
I'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featI'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featured in this book about bohemian New York, 1913-1930. Others were the poet and artist Mina Loy, the avant-garde publishers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, the wealthy hostesses Mabel Dodge and A'Lelia Walker and their salons, and their artistic friends.
After the Great War, Victorian times were left behind as people grasped new freedoms through artistic pursuits, interesting conversation, and unconventional lifestyles. When Prohibition arrived in 1919, a network of speakeasies with bootleg liquor appeared where people of different social classes mixed. The stock market crash in 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. There were fewer funds for artistic expression and entertainment, and the mood of the country became more conservative.
The author chose women with creative, daring personalities as her subjects so it is a very entertaining book. Many of their friends also had interesting bohemian lifestyles which included sexual freedom. Wonderful black and white photographs showed the glamour of the era. But alcohol, stress, lack of money, and broken relationships led to difficulties in many cases. A book of this size is a great introduction to this passionate group of women in 1920s New York. It might prompt some readers to pick up a biography of one of these women that caught their interest. 3 1/2 stars....more
The circus tent had been waterproofed with six thousand gallons of white gasoline and eighteen thousand pounds of paraffin--a disaster waiting to happThe circus tent had been waterproofed with six thousand gallons of white gasoline and eighteen thousand pounds of paraffin--a disaster waiting to happen. The circus played to an afternoon crowd of 7,000 people in Hartford, Connecticut. It was July 6, 1944, and the circus and the city workers were both shorthanded since so many men were away fighting in the war. The largest exits were blocked by animal chutes where the lions and other big cats were exiting. A small fire of unknown origin quickly turned into an inferno raging out of control. The crowd, mostly women and children, was in a panic and over 168 people were killed from burns and being trampled. Many more were hospitalized with painful burns and other injuries. The disaster preparations that the state had made for the war were put to good use. Plasma had been stocked, stretcher crews had been trained, and hospitals were stocked with a large supply of bandages.
In the book Stewart O'Nan also covers some earlier fires, the legal aspects including compensation, the police investigations, and the unidentified victims. The only good things to come out of this horrible event were better regulations to prevent fires in the future.
The book has an enormous amount of documentation with hundreds of names. It follows chronological order so you might see the name of someone escaping from the circus, then encounter it again fifty pages later when they are in the hospital, then again seventy pages later when they receive compensation from the circus. So it's a book best read in a concentrated chunk of time so the reader remembers the people involved in the story. In some ways O'Nan has given a gift to historians by gathering up so much detailed historical information into this book. But a little less detail would have let the story flow more easily. The black and white photographs were terrific, illustrating important scenes without being lurid. Overall, I found it to be an interesting and moving book.
Several years ago, I was at an anniversary event remembering the Hartford Circus Fire where O'Nan was one of the featured speakers. I was impressed with his knowledge of the event and his compassion for the families who will never forget July 6, 1944....more
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they quickly headed for Leningrad and cut off the supply routes into the city. The only wayWhen the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they quickly headed for Leningrad and cut off the supply routes into the city. The only way food and other supplies could be brought into Leningrad was to use boats to cross Lake Ladoga. When the weather turned frigid, they switched to trucking supplies across the ice, hoping the ice would hold. People were eating tree bark, sawdust, leather, cats, dogs, rats, and some even resorted to cannibalism during the long winter.
The Russian people also had to contend with the NKVD, the secret police, who arrested, tortured, and killed people on trumped up charges. Stalin was so paranoid that he had his most experienced officers shot by the NKVD which made the military position even more precarious against the more experienced Germans. Stalin, who came from a humble background, was especially harsh on the more cultured citizens of Leningrad. The composer Dmitri Shostakovich was always very nervous that he would be brought in for questioning by the NKVD if Stalin disapproved of his music.
Shostakovich and his family were evacuated from Leningrad in the autumn of 1941, and he finished his Seventh Symphony, dedicating it to the city of Leningrad. Although it was performed in several other cities first, the performance in Leningrad on August 9, 1942 was the most unforgettable. Since most of the musicians in the city had been either evacuated or died from hunger, it was difficult to put together an orchestra of over 100 musicians to play the 80 minute symphony. The brass and the woodwinds were too weak to blow their instruments without fainting, and the strings were exhausted from holding their violins. Extra food rations were given to them so the skeletal musicians managed to play. The Seventh Symphony announced to the world that Leningrad would endure. It also showed what joy and hope that music can bring under the most tragic of circumstances.
The book also tells of the difficult winter faced by the soldiers of both sides since they had inadequate food, clothes, fuel, and supplies. In January 1943 the siege of Leningrad was broken, although the city was not entirely liberated until 1944.
The author includes an enormous amount of detail as he covers the time from June 1941 to August 1942. This gave a good sense of what the people of Leningrad and the soldiers had to endure. It probably could have been edited down a bit since some of the stories were repetitious. The strength of this moving account of the siege of Leningrad is that the history is approached from many different angles....more
Journalist Reese Erlich realizes that the roots of the Syrian civil war are found in history. He gives us the highlights of Middle Eastern history strJournalist Reese Erlich realizes that the roots of the Syrian civil war are found in history. He gives us the highlights of Middle Eastern history stretching back to World War I that are influencing Syria today. He also interviews leaders, rebels, university professors, government analysts, and ordinary people. He discusses the influence of other countries, especially Russia, the United States, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Erlich was raised in a Jewish home in America, and understands the pain felt by those who suffered in the Holocaust. But he also empathizes with the Palestinians who lost their homes. He shows both sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine that adds to the instability of the Middle Eastern region.
The appendix of the book has a guide to Syrian political groups supporting and opposing Assad. It also has a section explaining the differences in the religious groups in Syria, and which factions (Alawites, Shias, Christians, and Druze) received better jobs and preferential treatment from Assad. The book ends in 2014 as the ultraconservative Sunni rebels, such as ISIS, were becoming more powerful. Erlich has a useful Syria Timeline (starting in 1914) in the back of the book which he has updated on his website, www.reeseerlich.com .
Syria--and the whole Middle Eastern region--have a complex history. The region has a strategic location from a military standpoint, and has large oil and natural gas reserves. The combination of so many competing factions within Syria, plus foreign intervention, has led to a situation with no easy solutions. Erlich's book is not a chunky history text with a huge amount of detail. It is a good overview of the Syrian situation that would be very useful to someone that wants to supplement the news they receive from newspapers and television. ...more