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

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  252 Ratings  ·  38 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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Jan 13, 2016 Peter rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 30, 2013 Debbie rated it liked it
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
Mar 04, 2015 Rich rated it it was amazing
I think this is my favorite book of all. The story has obvious inspirational value but also heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Kevin Faul
Feb 21, 2017 Kevin Faul rated it it was amazing
Incredible book about following a vision and succeeding against all odds. A nee favorite
Frank Camp
Jun 11, 2015 Frank Camp rated it it was amazing
This is an intriguing drama not a dry technical dissertation. Counting the Wright Brothers as one guy the best allegory I can come up with is this: Four high school boys Wright, Langley, Bell and Curtiss all set out with one goal, get a Date With Scarlett (insert YOUR Dream Girl here). The boys keep their methods secret. They each claim varying degrees of success which none of the others believe. Samuel P Langley is the head of the Smithsonian Institute. You already know who Alexander Graham Bel ...more
May 24, 2013 Robert rated it liked it
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
Dave Thompson
Dec 30, 2015 Dave Thompson rated it it was amazing
James Tobin is a student of the Wright Brothers, a well-respected North Carolina historian, and was instrumental in the planning for the 100th anniversary of flight at Kitty Hawk in 2003. Although I'm a private pilot and a passionate student of aviation, I visited Kitty Hawk for the first time over Thanksgiving week 2015.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts, and I in addition to visiting the museum and the Kill Devil Hill monument, I also had a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually fly the world's
Jun 06, 2013 Winston rated it really liked it
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
Sivaram Velauthapillai
May 19, 2016 Sivaram Velauthapillai rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history-culture
Flight was one of those things that humans dreamed of for millennia; something that seemed within reach but was never mastered until the 20th century. I'm sure you, like most adults out there, have heard of the Wright brothers. Yet, very few know how they actually conquered flight. I certainly didn't know about their hard work, their own money spent on their hobby, and the unknown problems they solved.

This book has illuminated the story behind the Wright brothers and their discovery of flight. I
Brett Fernau
Nov 28, 2012 Brett Fernau rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
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
Jul 26, 2012 Amerynth rated it really liked it
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
Mar 09, 2014 Nick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Scott Downing
Apr 15, 2012 Scott Downing rated it really liked it
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
Nov 25, 2012 Steve Sarrica rated it it was ok
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
Jul 23, 2013 Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
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.

Peter Boody
May 24, 2013 Peter Boody rated it it was amazing
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
May 07, 2015 Megargee rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 25, 2015 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ben Wilson
Aug 21, 2007 Ben Wilson rated it it was amazing
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.
May 13, 2009 Noah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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)
Nov 25, 2008 Dave rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 24, 2015 Marsha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book and learned a lot about the Wright brothers. I have a new understanding and appreciation for what these men created and endured. I was glad I picked it up. I got this in audio and the reading was nice.
May 05, 2015 Puck rated it really liked it
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.
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
M.T. Bass
Apr 04, 2015 M.T. Bass rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing
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...
Larry Cheesman
a story of true entrepreurship and gritty resolve.
James Sarlo
Jul 12, 2013 James Sarlo rated it really liked it
A bit hard to follow at times and sometimes bland, but overall a good picture painted of the early days of aviation
Jan 02, 2008 Ken rated it really liked it
Very interesting to learn not only about the wright brothers, but also their main competitors in the race for flight.

Derek Baker
Mar 22, 2016 Derek Baker rated it really liked it
Well done account of the "race" for flight. What was going on as the Write Brothers worked. Who got the lime light and why. Historically written.
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