Comments for Birdmen
Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone takes an in depth look at the people who made heavier than air flight possible. When I was a child, the answer to this question was simple: The Wright brothers, and it all started with the Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. Technological advances are rarely that simple. They are typically messy, competitive, and even litigious.
Modern day airplanes are exquisite corpses built on the technological advancements that different inventors and companies have made. Birdmen focuses on the individual pieces of the puzzle of flight. Besides the Wrights, there was Curtiss, Baldwin (inventor of the parachute), Chanute, Langley and others.
While there is some biographical information too the life stories take a back seat to the discussion of their research. For anyone interested in the mechanics of flight, the business of being on the leading edge of technology, and the fine art of getting and keeping government contracts. On the flip side is the heavy price of lawsuits, the never ending need to boost one's brand, the growing need for capital, and the ever expanding competition.
For the Wright Bros. business, the desire to stay privately owned, with tight control over patents and publicity, and trouble adapting to an ever changing business model. Ultimately the things that put the Wrights on the top in the beginning, were the same ones that brought an unfortunate end to the company.
My one complaint with the book is that it seems to drag near the end. To fill the book out beyond 400 pages, the book includes some brief biographies of early superstar flyers. While I am also interested in the likes of Harriet Quimby and John Moisant, I was reading Birdmen for the business and engineering stories.