The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough


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The #1 New York Times bestseller from David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize—the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly—Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

In this “enjoyable, fast-paced tale” (The Economist), master historian David McCullough “shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly” (The Washington Post) and “captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished” (The Wall Street Journal). He draws on the extensive Wright family papers to profile not only the brothers but their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them. Essential reading, this is “a story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency…about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished…The Wright Brothers soars” (The New York Times Book Review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476728759
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 19,469
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other acclaimed books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, Brave Companions, 1776, The Greater Journey, The American Spirit, and The Wright Brothers. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Visit


West Tisbury, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

July 7, 1933

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


B.A., Yale University, 1955

Read an Excerpt

The Wright Brothers

  • From ancient times and into the Middle Ages, man had dreamed of taking to the sky, of soaring into the blue like the birds. One savant in Spain in the year 875 is known to have covered himself with feathers in the attempt. Others devised wings of their own design and jumped from rooftops and towers—some to their deaths—in Constantinople, Nuremberg, Perugia. Learned monks conceived schemes on paper. And starting about 1490, Leonardo da Vinci made the most serious studies. He felt predestined to study flight, he said, and related a childhood memory of a kite flying down onto his cradle.

    According to brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, it began for them with a toy from France, a small helicopter brought home by their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a great believer in the educational value of toys. The creation of a French experimenter of the nineteenth century, Alphonse Pénaud, it was little more than a stick with twin propellers and twisted rubber bands, and probably cost 50 cents. “Look here, boys,” said the Bishop, something concealed in his hands. When he let go it flew to the ceiling. They called it the “bat.”

    Orville’s first teacher in grade school, Ida Palmer, would remember him at his desk tinkering with bits of wood. Asked what he was up to, he told her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother were going to fly someday.

  • Table of Contents

    Prologue 1

    Part I

    1 Beginnings 5

    2 The Dream Takes Hold 27

    3 Where the Winds Blow 43

    4 Unyielding Resolve 65

    Part II

    5 December 17, 1903 85

    6 Out at Huffman Prairie 109

    7 A Capital Exhibit A 131

    8 Triumph at Le Mans 155

    Part III

    9 The Crash 181

    10 A Time Like No Other 203

    11 Causes for Celebration 227

    Epilogue 255

    Acknowledgments 263

    Source Notes 269

    Bibliography 303

    Illustration Credits 309

    Index 311

    Customer Reviews

    The Wright Brothers 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 117 reviews.
    M-Goddart More than 1 year ago
    We all know of the lore of the Write Brothers – the brothers who invented the airplane. But do we really know their story? Their struggles? This is an AMAZING book filled with insights. The research is incredible. The writing is strong. I highly recommend this book!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I know that the Wright brothers invented the airplane but that is all I knew. Fascinating facts and history. The brothers were very unassuming men who gave us the greatest invention. This book should be a must for history buffs and people who love aviation. I learned so much about the history of planes and the men. Amazing.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I always had a desire to read about the Wright brothers and finaly I was able to read about their lives in a no nonsense wonderfully writen book by the the master of the biography. I was impressed by their ability to create the first airplane with so little formal education.This is a must read and is full information I'll bet you didn't know.
    GregPrincipato More than 1 year ago
    Every school child learns that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. It is usually learned as an answer to a multipple choice question, and then little discussion beyond that, if discussed at all. But the story is far more interesting, and important. The airplane is arguably the most important invention of the 20th century and has changed the world in ways that could only be imagined by science fiction writers previously. We take it for granted. But we shuold not. Now, America's foremost biographer has told their story, and because of that millions will know it. The Wright Brothers had no particular training or knowledge in aeronautics. There were plenty who did and were also trying to accompllish powered, controlled, flight, but the Wright Brothers got there first. The story of their focus, their willignness to fail and to learn from failure, their lack of resources and lack of broader support is fascinating. Full disclosure, I work in aviation and serve as President of the Aero Club of Washington, whose first ever meeting featured the Wright Brothers and is described in the book. Still, there is plenty in this accessible volume that I had not known. It is a great story, and full of lessons for anyone of any age and any time. This is a great story that has long deserved a story teller like David McCullough. That day has arrived. Read this book!
    Marineaviation More than 1 year ago
    If you're a fan of McCullough, then you will love this book about the Wright Brothers. He has the ability to put you in the moment with detailed history and anecdotal details that sets him apart from other writers. To think that what happened at Kitty Hawk was the seminal moment in flight and over the past century has changed the world, and how we take aviation for granted. You will not be disappointed.
    MarjorieMorningstar More than 1 year ago
    David McCullough brings to life, as only he can, a time and place when the American values of a pursuing a dream with hard work and diligence could forever change the world. Wilbur and Orville Wright, these two unassuming midwestern men with only high educations took on the puzzle of their age, and with little money and no fanfare, against all the odds, were the first to solve it. Most of us know about their first successful flight, caught in that iconic photograph taken at Kitty Hawk, Despite this, it was quite some time before their fellow American's took much interest in their "tinkering," In time, of course, not only their own country, but the world began to take note. The air had been conquered. It's a great story, and it couldn't be in better hands than McCullough's..
    watkd25 More than 1 year ago
    David McCullough's book about the Wright Brothers is an interesting short biography about the Brothers who--not exclusively as mentioned by the author--created the first successfully powered flyable aircraft. The Wright Brothers interest in flying had come from a toy that was given to them by their father when they were children and over time their interests were expanded through reading material and through the observation and study of birds as well as the successes and failures of those before them. In the process, the Wright Brothers were ridiculed, as were others, but with strong-will and determination they were able to achieve the impossible. The aircraft, in my opinion, is one of the greatest inventions in human history and if you are interested in what Wilbur and Orville Wright contributed to the human race, which can now travel up to almost 10,000 miles in one trip without refueling, I would recommend that you get a copy of this book but only on the condition of understanding that the book is not really a technical one on the aircraft itself. In part III of the story, I felt the author overdid himself by mentioning the amount of records that were broken by the Wright Brothers airplane, most of them mentioned were records previously broken by the Brothers themselves. This is the reason for the four star rating. Dictionary/reference review: 109 Grammatical error count: No errors found.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Easy to read. Good history of the brothers contribution to flying.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A joy to read ----- my favorite author,. exploring a subject I knew too little of. Thank You Mr. McCullough!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The author makes you feel as though you are right there on this exciting journey with the Wright family. I learned so much more than just Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first to make a plan that flew. A very enjoyable book.
    irving-roberts More than 1 year ago
    In his usual style David McCullough hits it again but this time with one of the best "stories" of American entrepreneurship ever told. The reader learns the failures and the hard work that went into success as well as the foibles of daring to step out against mainstream ideas and competition. This could be classified as a page turner as it is hard to put down.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Orville and Wilbur were not Teddy or Harry, for the biographical purposes of David from McCullough's perspective. The biography is woefully lacking in the detail of how the Wright brothers's achieved thier amazing development of the airplane. From my viewpoint, how the Wright brothers discovered the physics of lift for an airplane wing is an important part of thier biography, not Wilbur's fascination with Paris.
    KRB More than 1 year ago
    McCullough writes like he talks. Intoxicating. The book was way too short.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Compared to Mr. McCullough's previous work, I was very disappointed in this book.  There were relatively few pages devoted to how they actually solved the mysteries of flight, and far too many devoted to really extraneous things.  At one point, we are treated to a report on the winter weather in Dayton.  It's just stuck o  on the page and has no bearing on the narrative.  I couldn't help but wonder what  percentage of the book was nothing more than letters the Wright family had written, and how much McCullough had actually written.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I bought this for my father, a retired pilot, and he enjoyed it so much that I had to read it, as well. I loved both 1776 and John Adams, and was not disappointed. Another success, Mr. McCullough...
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The Wright Brothers story is a testament of will. The saga bridges many parts of world history. McCullough is unparalleled in his research.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What a great book. Well written and easy to read. As many times as I have been to Kill Devils Hill I was always amazed by the Wright Brothers accomplishment . But I never thought about what happened after that. This book goes beyond the first flight and into what they did after that. Great family story of 2 determined brothers.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a well crafted, well researched story of the Wright brothers, and their family. I had a hard time putting the book down.
    irishlass77 More than 1 year ago
    Every book David McCullough writes is a winner. He makes history come alive in a very wonderful way that isn't dull or boring. I learned so much of the wonderful Wright Brothers and what visionaries they were with abilities that were unlimited.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    David McCullough can bring history to life almost like no other. This book is fascinating from the first page to the last -- and plain fun to read too. McCullough is a master, he interweaves history like a story. Really enjoyable for every reader. Great for summer too!
    fritz12 More than 1 year ago
    Remarkable story of two extraordinary men. A great read!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Loved it!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Good book
    ethanpsx More than 1 year ago
    David McCullough does it again. For those who didn't care for the book due to the lack of in depth information, you might want to re-read it and pay attention this time. It clearly states  the reason for the lack of details. There wasn't much coming from the brothers. If there was, it would have included it. What we are given is immensely informative --  far more than I imagined. And written in such a wonderful narrative. Thank you again.Mr.  McCullough, You did it again! 
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago