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Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History

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The untold story of five women who fought to compete against men in the high-stakes national air races of the 1920s and 1930s — and won
Between the world wars, no sport was more popular, or more dangerous, than airplane racing. Thousands of fans flocked to multi‑day events, and cities vied with one another to host them. The pilots themselves were hailed as dashing heroes who cheerfully stared death in the face. Well, the men were hailed. Female pilots were more often ridiculed than praised for what the press portrayed as silly efforts to horn in on a manly, and deadly, pursuit. Fly Girls recounts how a cadre of women banded together to break the original glass ceiling: the entrenched prejudice that conspired to keep them out of the sky.

O’Brien weaves together the stories of five remarkable women: Florence Klingensmith, a high‑school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blue‑blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita. Together, they fought for the chance to race against the men — and in 1936 one of them would triumph in the toughest race of all.
Like Hidden Figures and Girls of Atomic City, Fly Girls celebrates a little-known slice of history in which tenacious, trail-blazing women braved all obstacles to achieve greatness.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published August 7, 2018

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About the author

Keith O'Brien

4 books63 followers
Keith O'Brien has written for The New York Times, Politico, and The Boston Globe. A longtime contributor to National Public Radio, he has appeared on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and This American Life, among other programs. He lives in New Hampshire.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,198 reviews
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,349 reviews3,004 followers
October 29, 2018
4.5 stars

I love reading about the female aviators in the early days of aviation who were so brave and faced so many obstacles in attempting to show that females were as fully capable at flying as the men. Without these female pioneers it would have taken even longer to have female pilots in the military and working for commercial airlines. And astronaut Sally Ride might have had to wait awhile or miss her chance altogether in becoming the first American woman in space. It truly is nothing short of amazing in how these female aviators not only impacted the industry but also had a big role in pushing for women's equality.

So if you don't have much prior knowledge about female aviators this is definitely a good book to start with as it provides a good history of the industry as a whole during that time period but it also focuses on five of the female pilots. Some of the women included are Ruth Nichols, who came from a wealthy family and secretly took flying lessons, Louise Thaden, a mother who tries to find a balance between family and her passion for flying, and of course the most well-known of the bunch, Amelia Earhart, is also featured in the book.

I found the book to be fascinating even though this isn't the first non-fiction book I have read on the subject. There were still plenty of interesting tidbits that I hadn't heard before. By far one of the most random and infuriating stories was of the female pilot who died and while even though it was proven it was due to a faulty airplane, reporters still blamed her death on her menstrual cycle. God bless these women who had to put up with so much ridiculous crap from men!

This is definitely a book worth reading especially if you enjoy non-fiction books about aviation and/or remarkable women.

Profile Image for Valerity (Val).
974 reviews2,748 followers
August 6, 2018
I really enjoyed this book about the world of flying during the 1920’s and 30’s in America and how women pilots were at such a disadvantage compared to the men. Flying really grew during that period, with so many more pilots being licensed and planes being built than before. Mostly male pilots, but certainly more females too. The book took a look mostly at 5 women pilots, such as Amelia Earhart and others you aren’t as likely to know but are just as interesting once you get to know them. Flying back then was quite dangerous for both sexes with lots of mishaps being common, even for the most careful pilots. It made for an exciting read, for sure.

These brave ladies set many records and I really loved learning about them. The book focuses mainly on these five ladies though it tells about others: Ruth Elder, Florence Klingensmith, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden. I had a friend here in Georgia who flew his own planes but sadly was killed in a crash a few years back. My aunt also flew for quite a few years and just loved it. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the subject. My thanks for the advance digital copy that was provided by Netgalley, authors Keith O’Brien & Eamon Dolan, and the publisher for my fair review.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub: Aug 7th, 2018
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
August 9, 2018
4 heroic stars

This was a story of five brave women who decided that they were more than capable to compete in the man's world of airplane races. Meet the

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History

Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden were, some would say, people born before their time. However, most of us would say these women were the stuff of dreams, of a life fulfilled by the joy of stepping out into a place where women dared not to tread, of blazing a trail so big and wide that today we think nothing of women pilots, women flying military jets, and women in of all things outer space!

These five women came from such varied backgrounds, some not well educated, some from families of wealth and some from families that had nothing. One was a married mother of two, one a divorcee, one married to George Putnam, who would later go onto fame and disappearing without a trace in the Pacific, giving rise to many theories as to her death and disappearance.

These women shared a passion, that of flying, that of competing with men. They all shared the idea that women were just as good as their male counterparts, although many of that time felt differently. They risked life and limb to prove that point to show the world what they and all women were made of. They were tough, they were resilient, and they followed their dream, some even to their death.

I very much enjoyed this story as the author delved not only into their lives but also into what made their characters strong and courageous. They knew the risks and they embraced them happier in the sky, happier in beating the men, happier in their ability to be exactly what they wanted to be. They were and are true trail blazers, who followed their paths and in doing so opened up to the women of today countless opportunities. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and know today that their efforts were not in vain.

Thank you to Keith O'Brien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Edelweiss for a copy of this truly inspiring story.
My reviews can be seen here: https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...
Profile Image for Julie.
2,011 reviews38 followers
June 4, 2019
I felt truly bereft when the book ended. What a thrilling ride! It was amazing to learn of the obstacles these intrepid and persistent aviators overcame to achieve their dream of flight.
Update: 12/4/18. I enjoyed this book so much that I recommended it to my husband. One of his heroes is Amelia Earhart, so, I had a strong inkling that he would enjoy it. This is what he said, "I think it is a really well written book about the struggles groups of society face when trying to pursue their ambitions. In spite of tremendous discrimination, these women prevailed, and provided a beacon of hope for other women" (Simon Gibson).
Update 12/7/18. I swear this is my final edit! My husband, Simon Gibson, doesn't have his own GR account & asked if I would add the following to my review. I agreed. Here is what he wrote:
"This book is a valuable historic aviation book, that tracks the endeavors and struggles of women aviators competing against men. It highlights the discrimination that, sadly, is still an issue today.
In my mind, the important characteristics of good aviators, has nothing to do with gender, but everything to do with the person's aptitude. The book serves as an encouragement to those who are facing similar discrimination. I was recently reading some similar aviation history from the UK. There, female aviators also had to struggle to get recognition. However, they were an important part of the war effort in the ATA (Air Transport Auxilliary) ferrying airplanes to their designated airfields, often flying planes that had just been built and encountered mishaps due to untested, or unchecked items. Thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book" (Simon Gibson).
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
October 6, 2022
Fly Girls is a fascinating book but also heart-breaking so was hard to read at times. The fabulous feats of flying by both men and women in the 1920s and 1930s were exciting but the inevitable plane crashes were not. Crash after crash after crash. The body count was higher than any other book I've read in ages, fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes people survived these crashes. Crashes were most often caused by malfunctions. Sometimes parts of the plane would literally tear away mid-flight. What was amazing to me was that the pilots did not hesitate to fly given the high risk of dying. They knew the risk and thought the thrill of flying and being a part of history was worth the gamble.

The misogyny of many of the male fliers, reporters and flying race organizers was maddening. If a female pilot crashed it was because women were fragile and incompetent. Their brains aren't able to grasp the complexities of airplane mechanics. The little ladies should be home prettying up the house and taking care of their husbands and kids. The women pilots had to fight against these attitudes constantly. If men crashed there was never any question of their competence or abilities.

Amelia Earhart is one of the pilots followed in this book. I had never before read anything about her personal life nor the trajectory of her career. Her story and the stories of her female peers was completely compelling.
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,395 reviews13 followers
February 2, 2019
I was so looking forward to this book, which makes the disappointment I feel after reading it even greater. I've always found the stories of the early female pilots fascinating, and was hoping that a book that focused on them collectively would help me get to know them even more and maybe even in a new light. No such luck. Perhaps the book would be better titled Basic Info About the Fly Girls You Could Get Anywhere and More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Men Behind the Scenes. Because there is WAY too much information about the men behind the scenes. When whole chapters are devoted to these men, or far too many chapters start off with info about them rather than the women who are supposed to be the focus of this book, it becomes awfully difficult to understand why the author and publisher decided to market it as a book about the female pilots.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,728 reviews751 followers
August 23, 2018
I enjoyed reading this book about five women pioneers of aviation. They are as follows: Louise McPhetridge Thaden (1905-1979) first female to win the Bendix Trophy. Ruth Rowland Nichols (1901-1960) held simultaneous world records for speed, altitude and distance. Ruth Elder (1902-1977) was an actress. Elder held many speed and distance records. Florence Klingensmith (1904-1933) was the first women to have a pilot’s license in North Dakota. She did lots of racing derbies and set speed records. Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) Earhart is the most well known of the early aviators. She was first women to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and the first women to fly from Oakland to Hawaii in 1935. She set many records in her career. All these women were founding members of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots formed in 1929 by ninety-nine women. Earhart was the first president.

I have met a number of these early women aviators and have an interest in flying. I was taught to fly a piper cub by Pancho Barnes (1901-1975) in Muroc, CA in the late 1940s. Pancho was also a founding member of the Ninety-nines. Pancho started setting records in the 1920s. I have read a few stories about these women, but, unfortunately, there is not much available. I am so glad that Keith O’Brien wrote this book about these five pioneers of aviation. O’Brien created lots of suspense about flying, but I wished he had been able to bring these women to life more vividly. The book is packed with information about the early days of flying and the records these women broke.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is just over twelve hours. Erin Bennett does a good job narrating the book. Bennett is an actress, voice over artist and award-winning audiobook narrator. Bennett has won multiple Earphone Awards.

Profile Image for Ed.
Author 46 books2,693 followers
August 17, 2019
I liked reading this colorful, engrossing account of the early women aviators. Amelia Earhart is the only one of them who is still remembered. They often clashed with the men aviators. Having worked in the aerospace industry, I liked their different stories of flying and airplanes. One thing standing out was how dangerous and risky the occupation was. The writing is easy to follow, and the author's use of details brings the story and characters alive for me. I like a change of pace in my reading selections like this title provided me.
Profile Image for KOMET.
1,114 reviews135 followers
September 8, 2018
This book sheds light on the unsung contributions made by women pilots to aviation between 1927 and 1937, a time often referred to as the Golden Age of Aviation. Its focus is on 5 women aviators of the 1920s and 1930s (i.e., Louise Thaden, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Nichols, whose pilot license was signed by Orville Wright himself) and their struggles to gain acceptance and respect in the field of aviation. Aviation in its early days was considered more of a "man's sport" and women were discouraged from being a part of it. But these women -- many of whom proved to be extraordinary fliers in their own right --- were made of sterner stuff. These 5 women persisted - and some of them paid the ultimate price for that.

The only quibble I have with this book is the author's frequent use of the word 'airship' in place of 'airplane'. By common understanding in the aviation industry, 'airship' refers to a 'dirigible', a lighter-than air machine. For that reason, I've taken a star away from what otherwise would have been a 5-star rating.
Profile Image for Biblio Files (takingadayoff).
579 reviews292 followers
April 28, 2018
During World Wars I and II, aviation advanced at a record pace, from sheer necessity. Between the wars, aviation was left to the daredevils who barnstormed and raced and showed off. Among those daredevils were several women, yes, Amelia Earhart for one, but a few you may not have heard of -- Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, Florence Klingensmith, and Louise Thaden. There were others, but Keith O'Brien focuses on these five in Fly Girls as the most interesting, and the ones who stuck it out the longest. (As the saying goes "There are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.")

When Charles Lindbergh flew to Paris in 1927, he did it for the prize money as much as for the challenge. Most of the aviators in those days were competing for prize money of some sort. Races were held all the time, because they drew huge crowds, and the annual cross country Powder Puff Derby is one of the oldest and longest running, still held every year for women fliers. Pushing limits for speed, endurance, and distance brought huge payouts even if the risks were all too real. Many aviators, men and women, died in horrific crashes while competing for glory and cash.

Exciting and well-researched, Fly Girls fills in a few blanks in the history of aviation in the 1920s and 1930s.

(Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Edelweiss for a digital review copy.)

Profile Image for Karen Nelson.
267 reviews27 followers
August 4, 2019
A great history of the early years of women aviators and their quest for validity in a misogynistic era. It was exceptionally well researched, but so many story lines detracted, for me, from the whole pleasure of reading. This is once again, an author trying to do too much in one book.
Profile Image for Ron Wroblewski.
589 reviews102 followers
September 9, 2020
A fantastic book about the top women flyers in the 1920s and 1920s. Concentrates on 5 women who broke the male barrier and set records. I only knew about Amelia Earhart, and the careers of the others was fascinating. Discusses the obstacles they faced, the successes they had and the crashes and failures they faced. A must read, especially for aviators.
Profile Image for Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ....
1,933 reviews47 followers
March 9, 2019
I have to admit: I was more excited about this book than I have been about any in a very long time. Flying is my thing. I was lucky enough to be part of a flight crew during my time in the Air Force. And growing up int he 1970s I thought I wanted to be a flight attendant -- because I thought that was my only flight option as a girl. I was always fascinated with journeying the skies and traveling the world. So, these women are true personal heroes to me.

And it was a fun read which I enjoyed quite a lot. But after reading Night Witches this one just doesn't quite compare. That one has the benefit of being about women who were flying for their military, during war, and on missions that were extremely dangerous. And although I still look at the women in this one as heroic it wasn't quite the same. If you are interested in early feminists, ground-breakers, military history.... read Night Witches and then please tell me which of the two books you liked more.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,732 reviews514 followers
July 3, 2019
My undergrad degree is in American history and I was thrilled to learn more about women’s little known impact on this era of our past. Engagingly told through the stories of five gutsy women ... including Amelia Earhart, who, surprisingly, was not the best pilot. Left me cheering!

Thanks to the author, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine.

#FlyGirls #NetGalley
Profile Image for Carrie.
Author 18 books66 followers
September 6, 2019
Reader, I cried. I'd like to write a full review, but it'll take me a couple days to sort out my thoughts.
Profile Image for Melissa O'Harra.
6 reviews5 followers
August 15, 2018
Fly Girls – How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History
By Keith O’Brien
Release Date: August 7, 2018

Pop quiz time: Who was the first woman to take the male-dominated aviation world by storm and flip it over on its side?

Do you have your answer?

I’ll wait…

If you are like me and likely thousands (millions?) of others, the first name to pop into your head is likely Amelia Earhart. Earhart has long been regaled as the queen of aviation. Her life is chronicled in every history book and she is widely known as the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic in a solo flight. Adding to her intrigue is the tragic end to her life, when she went missing while flying across the Pacific in 1937. Her demise is still inconclusive all these years later, even while dozens of people have dedicated their entire lives to solving the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart.

Surprise! Amelia Earhart is the WRONG answer. Well, maybe not the wrong answer so much as an incomplete answer. There were four other little-known women who joined forces with each other and Amelia Earhart to fight for the right to fly. But these women were not content to simply get a license to fly. Rather, they fought for the right to compete with the men in the extremely dangerous air races that took place across the country in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These air races were the ultimate in adrenaline spiking, dangerous and oftentimes deadly, tricks in the sky. The early female aviators faced obstacle after obstacle while fighting for equal rights in the air, sparking outrage, admiration and curiosity among the world. This book gives you some insight into the rarely talked about team of women who started it all:

Florence Klingensmith
Ruth Elder
Ruth Nicols
Louise Thaden
Amelia Earhart

Of course, there are dozens more women who fought the good fight alongside these notable pioneers, each woman bringing her own individual strengths, knowledge, quirks and weaknesses to the history of flying. They celebrate remarkable accomplishments as both women breaking through some of the most sexist barriers of that time, as well as being early innovators in the aviation world and crushing multiple records previously held by their male counterparts.

This book is a must read for all women and the men that know them. Fly Girls is also a great book club pick, as it will facilitate open discussions on various topics related to feminism, historical events and even how some of the same beliefs and prejudices are still in play today, nearly 100 years later.

It’s a historical non-fiction book but it reads as an extremely enjoyable novel that you will not want to put down. O’Brien has successfully re-created a dialogue between the characters that allows you to slip into their world and feel as if you are there riding in the cockpit alongside these legends. His writing style is descriptive and fluid, which proves he did his research prior to embarking on this writing journey. You can envision the colors of the shiny new planes as they line up at the starting line before taking off in the death-defying races. You feel the lurching of the pilots’ stomachs as they dip and weave around the pylons high in the sky trying to shave seconds off their time to get the prize. You will grieve along with the families of the pilots who paid the ultimate price in their quest for greatness.

The book will take you through a myriad of emotions, ultimately leaving you with a sense of completion at the conclusion, as well as fresh new inklings of doubt and curiosity regarding the whereabouts of the well-known, missing Earhart. All in all, it was an extremely satisfying read and absolutely worth digging into wholeheartedly.

If you love books and want access to more of my reviews, recommendations, TBR lists, etc., feel free to add me as a Goodreads friend, or follow my blog at TheTravelingBookista.com. I'd be delighted to have you! <3

Profile Image for Ann Goldman.
93 reviews
April 18, 2020
OK, they were all nuts! The men. The women. All of them. But they sure make for an interesting story. I was moved, infuriated, excited, curious, astonished. And in parts, I was terribly bored. Hence the three stars. I admire the author for his research, but the book felt much longer than a few hundred pages. Too many minor details crowding out the transcendent moments. But, I am glad to have learned of these daring women and to know their names. I will remember them. (Even though they really were nuts.)
667 reviews11 followers
June 2, 2018
This "good" book could have been excellent. Unfortunately, O'Brien is of the "just the facts, ma'am" school and failed to make any of the women come to life. While they, and most of the people who knew them, are long gone, surely someone's diary captured the real women who gave up so much just to fly.
Profile Image for Shannon Yarbrough.
47 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2019
Wow. I LOVED this book. It has increased my flight anxiety somewhat due to detailed descriptions of crashes, but I’m swelling with appreciation for the sacrifices early aviators made, especially these women, most of whom I didn’t know. Their courage and skill and resourcefulness and general bad-assery is so inspiring. Many thanks to the author for bringing these incredible stories back to life.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,590 reviews95 followers
September 11, 2018
"Women must try to do things as men have tried. Where they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." - Amelia Earhart, 1937

The subtitle is a bit of an oversell, but Fly Girls honors five pioneers of aviation, most of whom died while trying to push the envelope. Amelia Earhart is the only one of their number who has any name recognition today, disappearing as she did while trying to accomplish the first trans-pacific solo flight. She'd previously been the first to fly solo from the United States to Hawaii, as well as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Judging by her accomplishments, Earhart is in a class by herself here, but I'm tempted to agree with one of the other featured fliers here, Louise Thaden, who responded to someone asking her how she won the 5th National Air Race by stating it was 25% skill, 25% the airplane, and 50% luck. Early aviation was a lethal enthusiasm, practiced with evolving tools and planes composed with canvas wings. When things went wrong -- and flying planes for hours at a time meant something was bound to -- survival came down to circumstance. Sometimes a catastrophe could be survived, but sometimes there was nothing but to accept rapidly-hurtling fate. No one in this book is ever far from death; Earhart, for instance, was nearly sucked out of her aircraft during the same race that Thaden won.

Earhart's triumphs could have belonged to other women, like Ruth Nichols: she refused to give up trying to cross the Atlantic, even after she crashed two planes within a span of four months. A broken back aside, she was determined to try it again -- only to have Earhart beat her to it. Another accomplishment of the women here -- who were friends and competitors simultaneously -- was organizing the International Organization of Women Pilots, more popularly known as "The Ninety-Nines" because 99 women attended the first full meeting thereof. The Ninety-Nines organized in response to the discriminatory policies adopted by air race organizations to keep women out of the racing. The exact kinds of accidents that downed fantastically gifted fliers like Florence Klingensmith occurred to male fliers, but no one demeaned the talent of the male deceased or questioned their mental state at the time. Flying was inherently dangerous, but women, the Ninety-Nines protested, should have the right to accept that danger, and to try for the glory that would be theirs if they were successful.

As much as I enjoyed this look into aviation history, it does not live up to its title. The subjects were all outstandingly courageous and talented, moreso for continuing to seek their passion despite little support from outside, save for businessmen interested in gaining advertising value by sponsoring the odd attempt to across the Atlantic or set a new endurance record. But if this is a book about early women aviation pioneers, why is someone like Bessie Coleman completely absent, not so much as mentioned? Unable to take pilot training in the US because of her race, Coleman learned French and traveled to Paris to learn to fly, an incredible demonstration of doggedness that surely belongs here. I think Fly Girls is therefore more accurately regarded as a book about the women who formed the Ninety-Nines, culminating in their successful re-entry into national air races and Thaden's victory. They were an impressive group of women who refused to quit, and I'm glad their story is being shared decades after the last of them has left us.
10 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2021
Love the amount of research that went into sharing this awesome account of these brave women.

Profile Image for Dara.
329 reviews3 followers
September 9, 2018
Amazing true stories of brave, groundbreaking, women pilots! I didn’t want to put it down. I’ve read several good books about early aviation but little about the women. This book was packed with interesting information and did an amazing job of highlighting this exciting and controversial time. You get to know each woman and experience the passion and dedication that drives them to try something that was unchartered and dangerous. There are great achievements, sacrifices, and often tragedy. They definitely proved that female pilots had all the skills, ability, and courage their male counterparts did. No doubt they paved the way for our future!
Profile Image for Rachel Bonar.
76 reviews
December 13, 2018
** This book focuses only on white female pioneer aviators of the mid 1920s and 1930s. Sadly, it does not include female aviators of color. The book begins at 1926/1927, after the first African-American female aviator Bessie Coleman died in a plane crash. Her history is important and significant, and I wish the book widened its scope to include her and other female pilots of color.
Fly Girls ends on a bum note, detailing how a handful of the book's main female aviators vanished from the headlines and public life. The most famous vanishing of the group is Amelia Earhart and her crash in the Pacific ocean. She was the only female aviator of the 20s and 30s that I knew, so I read this book with great interest to know about the other women in Earhart's mythical and famous shadow.
Do not let the title fool you. The book writes about many women pilots and women connected to aviation. Though the title assumes he focuses on 5 women, the author really focuses on 3: Amelia Earhart. Louise Thaden, and Ruth Nichols. The other 2 women's stories are far shorter for any lengthy focus.

The books details the challenges of flight in the 20s and 30s, but mostly the challenges women pilots faced amid sexism from the aviation industry, fellow pilots, and news reporters. It is crazy to think that the government once thought it was dangerous for women to pilot a plane while menstruating, but that is just one example of the struggles female pilots faced back then. They wanted to be accepted by their male peers and the world. They wanted to prove their worth in the air and chased air records, sometimes to dangerous and life threatening situations.

This was a good history book for the short time period between 1927 and 1937 when air races were popular and aviators were heroes.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,312 reviews31 followers
April 29, 2018
Journalist Keith O'Brien tells a fascinating story of the brave and determined women of the 1920's and 30's who were aviation pioneers.

This is not a subject I have any interest in, yet the book drew me in because of the clear and colorful portraits O'Brien drew of his five featured women. And, because of their strength and resolve to be taken seriously in a very exclusive, male-dominated club.

They participated in the very popular air races of the 1920's, often handicapped by a lack of sponsorship or an inability to find aircraft to fly. That didn't stop them from pursuing their interest---an equal playing field to pursue their dreams--and, an opportunity to make history in the air.

This hobby, or vocation, was dangerous beyond belief and it was sobering to read of death after death in the air. Not due to pilot error, or inexperience flying, but due to faulty equipment during the early development of high-speed aircraft.

I have a profound respect for these women after reading O'Brien's book; it would be a great history lesson for any young person because it offers proof that persistence and determination are needed to achieve any goal.
Profile Image for Krista.
517 reviews8 followers
April 9, 2019
While I didn’t find this book riveting, I was intrigued and happy to learn more about the women aviators who were activists, feminists, and fought for aviation rights. These women fought for their aviation rights and put up with a lot from the male aviators, the community, and, much like women today, were held to a standard of having a single female in this position speak for the entirety. “From the beginning, all the women had been connected,...building on one another’s successes, saddled with one another’s failures, and pressing on together.” I am glad I read this because I have so much more respect for the women who persevere and fought to pave the way and make space for women in all professions.
Profile Image for Christine M in Texas.
1,026 reviews101 followers
August 26, 2021
Fly Girls
By: Keith O’Brien
This novel follows several women and men who were critical in the early years of aviation. Most people know about Amelia Earhart but many others played an important role.
The author brought their stories to life. It took a brave person to choose an occupation that was risky in the early days.
We learn about several female pioneers in a aviation. Louise M Thaden, Ruth R Nichols, Ruth Elder, Florence Klingensmith and Amelia Earhart. They each made a significant contribution in aviation. Triggers: Graphic crash scenes, death, loss
#flygirls, #keithobrien, #marinerbooks, #bookstagram, #bookreview, #bookstagrammer, #booksconnectus, #stamperlady50
Profile Image for Gretchen.
55 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2019
An interesting read about the history of flying. Although this book includes the stories of the women that were breaking records at the time it is not a book about them. It's as much about the men as the women. Though the title is a misleading, it was not a bad book overall.
Profile Image for Celia Buell.
573 reviews26 followers
July 21, 2023
Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History has been on my TBR since I first got Goodreads, around the time it came out (2017-18). When I saw it at a little free library, I had to go for it. I've had it for a few years and only just got around to reading it. I'm so glad I did.

I really enjoyed this comprehensive look at a hidden history. From the beginning, Fly Girls presented a fascinating, well-researched history with relevant context that was never overly didactic.

I loved how well the reader got to know the main women (and the important men in their lives and in aviation history) as characters rather than just historical figures. The narrative aspect of their lives added a lot more than a typical biography, especially one of multiple people. Their relationships and hopes for the women's races were an eye-opening look at the struggles and rivalries that are undoubtedly present in any social movement, especially one so much based on skill.

As for the history, I appreciated that Fly Girls didn't skirt over anything or remove the women's achievements from the men's to make them stand out. Instead, this blend of women's history, aviation history, and the general context of the 1920s and 30s blended together to showcase exactly who the women were fighting, what they had to prove, and why their feats in the air were so important in the feminist movement.

The part about the double standard in the air races was especially eye-opening. Again, I appreciated how all of the crashes were showcased (not just the women's) and how this was positioned against Florence Klingensmith's accident as the reason to bar women from flying. Providing all of the historical context makes the women's fight a lot more relevant within the book. This also helps it fit more into the interwar context of women's advancements both compared to men and on their own.

I always love these bits of microhistory, especially when they take place within an era I think I know a bit about. I've always loved reading about the resilience and happenings of the Great Depression and the way people did what they could with what they had. This is the first time I've seen the feminist movement through the lens of the Depression. I love the way everything was incorporated here.

I don't know if I would read this one again. It was a lot to get through. It's not exactly the kind of book to read over and over. However, it is up there with some of my favorite books that have completely changed or broadened my perspective on things.
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