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Nov 03, 2015 03:40PM ● By Michael Harris

The Wright Brothers is the latest bestseller by Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough. It is a masterfully told tale of two uneducated “bicycle mechanics” from little Dayton, Ohio, who changed the world and the course of history by building the first manned flying machine.

I have a real passion for books about aviation, but I've never read a more insightful and delightful book on the subject than McCullough’s.  You might think you know the whole story of the Wright Brothers, but you haven’t heard everything about their daring deeds until you’ve experienced their story through McCullough’s wonderfully written saga.

He describes these minister’s sons and their family with such affection, depth, and splendid detail that they come alive on every page of this short, yet brilliant, account of their epic adventure. McCullough’s unbelievably thorough research includes thousands of letters, meticulously comprehensive notes on every aspect of their invention, and spectacular photographs, all over a century old.

McCullough follows their "Dayton Flyer" from its earliest imaginings to its first manned flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, and from their flying demonstrations at home and abroad to the landmark patent cases that finally vindicated them as the rightful inventors of human flight.

Not only is this book a superbly described account of the invention of the airplane, it is one of the best written. McCullough has a special way of putting pen to paper. Through his eyes, even the complex mathematics of how these homegrown geniuses determined the proper shape of an airplane wing comes alive.  

By virtue of their Ohio upbringing, these self-made “workingest boys” had unfailing intellectual curiosity, grit, and the self-confidence to become the first in flight. And this was no simple task, as we learn from their numerous encounters with adversity and near disaster. But no matter what went wrong, they found the inner strength and courage to continue on undaunted. It is a real treat to watch their story unfold through the eyes of this “master storyteller.” (For the story of a modern genius, read Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk, the insightful look at the visionary who brought us Tesla and SpaceX and will one day take us to Mars.)

I wish I could've gotten as excited about H.W. Brands’ biography Reagan: The Life. Brands manages to capture Reagan's unique charm and personality, but fails to prove his main contention that “Reagan was one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt.” Yes, Reagan faced economic problems and the Cold War. But most historians agree these difficulties pale in comparison to FDR overcoming the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II.  Many scholars have rated Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman higher than Reagan. Regardless, Brands’ portrayal of this “B- rated” actor’s ascent to the presidency offers some interesting insights.

You can skip Tom Brokaw's memoir, A Lucky Life Interrupted, the story of his recent battle with multiple myeloma. Yes, he led a most fortunate life until this extremely deadly form of cancer interrupted it, but he seems to lose some perspective talking about his own woes. Brokaw is much better at telling other people's stories, as he did in The Greatest Generation.

Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s bio, Becoming Steve Jobs, is billed as an insider’s view of Jobs’ evolution from a "reckless upstart into a visionary leader." Yes, it provides a few interesting revelations, such as Tom Cook’s offer to donate a portion of his kidney to the desperately ill Jobs, but it adds little to Walter Isaacson's splendid biography of the Apple founder.