Observed since 1963, Wright Brothers Day on December 17 marks the anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first manned flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. What better way to appreciate the remarkable invention of the airplane than with a good book? Check out one of these biographies, histories, or memoir.
The Wright brothers
Award-winning biographer James Tobin takes on the story of the Wright brothers in To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. This narrative biography details their invention, personal relationships, and competitors.
The Wright Brothers Legacy: Orville and Wilbur Wright and Their Aeroplanes, by Walt Burton and Owen Findsen, presents the subject through photographs. Over 250 are included in this book that show the brothers’ experiments, flights, and air shows, as well as memorabilia and souvenirs.
Co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Noah Adams tells the story of the Wright brothers and their family through his own personal journey in The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Adams retraces the trip made by Wilbur Wright to North Carolina in 1900 and visits other sites of significance, such as the Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Along the way, Adams provides a unique look at these historic men and their accomplishments.
For the kids, get one of these books so they can learn the inspirational story of the Wright brothers. My Brothers' Flying Machine: Wilbur, Orville, and Me by Jane Yolen depicts these historic events through the narration of the Wright brothers’ sister; Airborne: A Photobiography of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Mary Collins paints a portrait of the Wright brothers with 60 historic photographs; and First to Fly: How Wilbur & Orville Wright Invented the Airplane by Peter Busby provides a detailed biography with a large colorful format that should appeal to grade-school children.
History of flight
Former curator of the National Air and Space Museum, Jay Spenser explores airplane history in The Airplane: How Ideas Gave Us Wings. More than a discussion of the Wright brothers’ work, Spenser details the people involved throughout the world in the invention of all parts of this amazing machine.
Inventing Flight: The Wright Brothers & Their Predecessors by John D. Anderson, Jr. presents the developments that led up to the first successful flight in 1903 from the work of Leonardo da Vinci to aviation pioneers in the 19th century.
For a pictorial history, check out Flight: A History of Aviation in Photographs by historian T.A. Heppenheimer. With over 400 photographs, this book captures the history of flight from its first attempts to the modern day.
Early women aviators
The world of flight in the early twentieth century belonged to more than men. These women carved a path for many to follow.
Well-researched and entertaining, The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Mary S. Lovell explores the abbreviated life of this record-setting pilot and advocate for women’s rights. Born in Atchison, Kansas, Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. She disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific in an attempt to fly around the world.
Lauren Kessler details the flamboyant life of Florence “Pancho” Lowe Barnes in The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes. In the 1920s, Barnes flew stunt planes for the movie studios and founded the Association of Motion Picture Pilots. Later, she started the Women’s Air Reserves and eventually owned a nightclub in the Mojave Desert that catered to military and test pilots.
Raised on a farm in East Africa, Beryl Markham was a successful horse trainer, an adventurous African bush pilot, and in 1936, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. West With the Night, originally published in 1942, is Markham’s lyrical memoir of her life up to that momentous occasion.