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To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
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To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  177 ratings  ·  28 reviews
James Tobin, award-winning author of Ernie Pyle's War and The Man He Became, has penned the definitive account of the inspiring and impassioned race between the Wright brothers and their primary rival Samuel Langley across ten years and two continents to conquer the air.

For years, Wilbur Wright and his younger brother, Orville, experimented in obscurity, supported only by
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 3rd 2004 by Free Press (first published 2003)
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My husband and I listened to this on a recent road trip. I'm pretty sure he would give it more stars, as he is a glider pilot and found the technical aspects fascinating.

I didn't object to the book in a serious way, but it got a bit dry and hard to follow and occasionally the hard to follow when I couldn't flip back a page or two to double check what year or event was being covered.

However, there were moments - as Wilbur's 1909 flight around the Statue of Liberty, or,earlier, a 12-year-old boy
Rich Lopez
I think this is my favorite book of all. The story has obvious inspirational value but also heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Decent biographic work documenting the first manned flights with a machine heavier than the air .... focused on exactly that, the history of the early flights (i.e. the Wrights' flights mostly), the book hurries towards the end, once the Wrights' flying records stopped to provide the initial technical/scientific leadership in the field they originally did. With Willbur's premature death in 1912 and the less ambitious/motivated Orville focusing less on the flying and more on legal battles (to pro ...more
Brett Fernau
I was a bit put off at first with Tobin's rather gratuitous disparagement of religion in the first chapter, but then I realized that this is a contemporary view of the Wright brothers achievements, written by someone immersed in the modern American education system. Once I got past this, I rather enjoyed the book. This story of the race toward manned flight is told from the words of the players themselves and that makes the tale all the more interesting. It is a tale of egos, adventure, and entr ...more
This is a great summary of the beginnings of powered manned flight. We were pretty much taught in school that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, and although they were certainly at the center of the "race to flight", they were by no means the only ones to innovate.

The reason the brothers ultimately "won" the race was because of their measured, patient, scientific approach. While others such as Samuel Langley threw money at the problem, attacking only one aspect such as power/speed, the B
I liked this book very much. I wasn't in love with it nor involved with the characters, as I would have been with a novel, but I found the story compelling. Of course it was mostly about the Wright brothers, who are an interesting story allby themselves. Prior to the Wrights, however, there were others of somewhat less note who contributed to the science of flying. In particular Samuel Pierpont Langley was involved with aerodromes and perhaps most remembered for spectacular failures. To my surpr ...more
This book describes how Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Langley (then director of the Smithsonian), and the Wright brothers competed to develop the first heavier-than-air flying machine, each trying different approaches. The personalities of the rivals are well delineated and even though you know the outcome, the author creates a considerable suspense, in the process imparting a great deal of information about the principles of aeronautics, which the brothers discovered.
James Tobin's "To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight" tells the story of three efforts (mainly) to prove that man could take to the skies. Its major focus is on the success of the Wilbur and Orville Wright, who were the first to successfully fly an airplane on the fields at Kitty Hawk, N.C. It also features the stories of Samuel Langley and Alexander Graham Bell, who approached the problem of flight with different (and less successful) ideas.

Overall, I found the b
James Tobin did a great job filling in the many gaps in my knowledge about the Wright brothers and their historic first flight. Especially interesting was the description of the multiple iterations they went through to create their first planes, other key contributors the the development of practical aircraft, and how their historic first flight quickly led to the development of widespread and practical motorized airplanes. An enjoyable and informative book.
Picked this up as prep for a job interview with the Museum of Flight - like most history books - you know how this one is going to end, but Tobin, and narrator Boyd Gaines, do an excellent job of building suspense... thoroughly enjoyed the read.
Peter Boody
Great job bringing the era and the personalities to life. I am a pilot who loves all things aeronautical so non-flying readers might want to take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt. For those looking for Hollywood style high personal drama (other than Langley's weirdness) and amazing adventures, this may not work (perhaps why there has never been a great biopic about the Wrights). But for me, I have a new, richer appreciation for the first flights of a powered aircraft carrying a human being and ...more
Scott Downing
This is a good book for those interested in the specific minutia of the discovery of the technical aspects of flight.

Now, if you thought the above sentence was dull and overdone then you might give "To Conquer the Air" only a star or two at best. While the book does contain a few great stories: the flights above the amazed populous of New York City were a prime example. The majority of the book, however, is dampened by the tightly controlled Wright brothers.

Good detailed avionics history. Not s
Steve Sarrica
I was very interested in reading about the early days of heavier-than-air powered human flight. Considering I am an "aerophile", I don't know a whole bunch about the early days of flight. I also wanted to learn how two bicycle shop owners from Dayton, Ohio achieved one of humanity's oldest desires. Tobin's book is surprisingly dry, but I don't really blame him. It turns out that the Wrights were awfully dry themselves. Worthwhile for plane geeks, but probably not of much interest to general publ ...more
An excellent account of the various people trying to "conquer the air". Centering mostly on the Americans involved in the pursuit of flight, it gave an inside look at the personalities involved and more of their back story than I had previously encountered. For many years I had wondered at the extreme secrecy that the Wright brothers used when they were going to exhibit their flyer in France. I found my answer. This was a very well done abridged audio book, one I will probably listen to again.

Ben Wilson
Mar 23, 2008 Ben Wilson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: aviation enthusiasts, steampunks, makers
Shelves: steampunk, aviation
A fascinating story of the creation of the first powered aircraft, told largely through personal correspondence between the Wrights and their family. Gives amazing depth and detail to a story that has been told many times before. Brings the Wrights to life in delicious detail.

03/2008 - Upgraded this to 5 stars. One of the best.
Tobin's an able biographer, but the source material just isn't that good. I assumed that, since he bothered to write the book, that there was an interesting untold story behind the Wright Brothers. I was wrong. (Note: I don't know why Goodreads only has the Spanish version of this book in its database)
M.T. Bass
Of course, being an airplane nut, I enjoyed reading about Wilbur and Orville, but by weaving in the stories of Samuel Langley, Curtis Wright and Alexander G. Bell, Tobin gave a sense of the "great race" as it unfolded at the time. Looking forward now to McCullough's book on thw Wrights.
Jun 03, 2010 Doubledotter rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Doubledotter by: Bruce
What a vibrant time in history and revealing stories of the risk, vision and entrepreneurship of the Wright brothers are encouraging. Anyone wanting to read a marvelous true story will enjoy the articulate and informative story telling of Tobin. I'm a new fan of his...
Interesting accounts of the Wright's competitors, especially Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institute and Alexander Graham Bell (yes, the telephone guy), as well as the Wright's own doings. Narrative basically ends with Wilbur's accomplishments in New York in 1909
This book came highly recommended by someone (Uncle Marvin?) but I didn't care that much for it. Maybe you would though. It was pretty complete on the history of the Wright Brothers. Read it long ago.
Jen Andrews
Matt told me to read this book...And I really didn't like it. It's one of the few books that I quit reading after only a few chapters. It was really slow and had too many subplots.
Very interesting to learn not only about the wright brothers, but also their main competitors in the race for flight.

James Sarlo
A bit hard to follow at times and sometimes bland, but overall a good picture painted of the early days of aviation
Fascinating portrait of the Wrights as a family as well as others pursuing the goal of heavier-than-air flight
The Wright Brothers story, plus Curtiss and the other early fliers. Great stuff about a true golden era.
Larry Cheesman
a story of true entrepreurship and gritty resolve.
Greg is currently reading it
Jul 28, 2015
Mike Buckner
Mike Buckner marked it as to-read
Jul 23, 2015
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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II Great Projects: The Epic Story of the Building of America, from the Taming of the Mississippi to the Invention of the Internet First to Fly: The Unlikely Triumph of Wilbur and Orville Wright Harry Johnson 1923 1977

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