Author: David McCullough
Title: The Wright Brothers
Narrator: David McCullough
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2015)
The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are figures shrouded in the myths and legends of the pioneers of aviation. David McCullough presents them as two distinct personalities, and introduces the Wright Sister, Katharine, an integral part of their team although she did not directly participate in the experiments with flight. While McCullough always writes (and reads!) in an engaging manner, he tends towards the hagiographic in his biographies. At one point he observes that Samuel Pierpont Langley has a scientific team, the backing of the government, and millions of dollars and fails, while the Wrights succeed with a little bit of money, their self-taught skills, and a bit of grit. This is unfair to Langley and wrapped up in the American mythos of the self-made entrepreneur. That being said, the Wrights were remarkable figures and McCullough does well to provide their background with the key event of December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk not coming until halfway through the book. After conquering the air, the brothers then split up to market their aircraft to the American military and abroad in France. Orville suffered serious injuries in a crash in 1908. Wilbur died young in 1912 and while Orville would live 76 years (long enough to still be alive when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier) he retired from flying in 1918. Like any good biography this is the story of fascinating lives well told.
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2002 [Originally published in 1958]
As a child growing up in Connecticut, I developed a passion for history, particularly colonial American history and local history. Yet somehow I missed this children’s novel set in 17th-century Connecticut. Until now!
Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados after the death of her grandfather and seeks out her aunt in Wethersfield, Connecticut. While welcomed warmly to join her aunt’s family, Kit misses the sunshine and tropical splendor of Barbados, not to mention the slave labor that had kept her from the daily drudgery she now shares with her cousins. Her free spirit is also at odds with the strict discipline of the Puritan community. She finds a kindred spirit in Hannah Tupper, the “witch” of the title who is actually a Quaker forced to live on her own in the marshy areas on the edge of town. As their friendship blossoms, suspicions grow in the community leading to accusations of witchcraft.
It’s a good novel, and while not 100% historically accurate, it uses its colonial Puritan setting well to create the atmosphere for a story of a positive young female character for the 20th century when it was written and now the 21st century as well.
Recommended books: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson, and Blindspot by Jane Kamensky & Jill Lepore