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The CR4 Book Club

The CR4 Book Club is a forum to discuss fiction and non-fiction books that have science, engineering or technology thematic elements. The club will read and discuss several books a year. All CR4 users are invited to participate. Look out for book announcements and the ensuing discussions that follow, but beware of potential spoilers!

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Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

Posted December 01, 2010 8:30 AM by Ron

Tom Crouch's book about the Wright Brothers is one that I'd seen reviewed, probably ever since it came out in 1989. The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright is also a book I knew I ought to read "one of these days". Well, this year at Oshkosh, I spotted a copy at an aviation bookseller's place and grabbed it. I'm glad that I did!

I've read at least half a dozen books on the Wright Brothers, plus many shorter articles, and yet this book covered territory new to me - and more clearly than anything I've seen before. The bibliography cites over 150 documents, and some of the footnotes refer to private conversations or correspondence with descendants of the people involved. This must have been a huge undertaking: the finished product runs 37 chapters and 606 pages. One review says that it took ten years of work to write. Every chapter has anywhere from a dozen to more than 40 footnotes (all gathered at the back, permitting the reader to read straight through if that is their preference).

According to the book's back cover, author "Tom Crouch is chairman of the department of aeronautics at the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution." Dr. Crouch's current title there is Senior Curator. That, together with several degrees in history, pretty well supports his qualifications to write such a book, and in part explains how he received access to so many sources that were previously untouched.

A short biography lists some of the awards that Dr. Crouch's books have won. The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright got the 1989 Christopher Award, a literary prize recognizing "significant artistic achievement in support of the highest values of the human spirit", and gives more of his very impressive background.

Summary: I recommend this book without reservation!

Editor's Note: CR4 would like to thank Ron Darner, newsletter editor for Chapter 320 of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), for contributing this book review.

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#1

Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/01/2010 11:18 PM

now if only they had been the first with the airplane...

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#2

Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/02/2010 4:32 PM

Thanks, Ron, for your very engaging review of The Bishop's Boys. For years I had considered the Wright brothers to be a couple of bicycle mechanics who finally stumbled onto a workable plane that flew a few hundred feet. After a chance visit to their work shop in Dayton I discovered they were actually two scientists that designed and tested elements of their prototype by first testing the lift of wing models on their bicycles and later in a working wind tunnel that they designed, built, and used in their lab/shop. The data they recorded for those tests were very impressive. When they finally took off for Kitty Hawk, they were prepared to fly when they could catch just the right wind along that N. Carolina shore and catch it they did. I read a very detailed and definative book on the subject a few years back but after your review of the Bishops's Boys I can't wait to get my hands on it. Those two brothers are up in the top ten of my all-time heros. Thanks again. Lou bindner

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/03/2010 10:17 AM

You're welcome, Lou. I already knew quite a lot about them (was born & raised in Dayton, Ohio, and my first professional job had me working at Wright-Patterson AFB there, considered the world's largest military R&D base then - and might still be). I was very aware that they didn't just "stumble on" to a workable solution, as so many other would-be flyers expected to do, nor did they make grandiose claims prior to even testing (that's the scientist and engineer aspect of how they worked). I've read the other books - some quite good - and knew a decent amount, for an amateur. Mr. Crouch is a full-fledged pro who knows both how to dig out more, and how to write it out for others.

If you want to dig into the math & physics of how they achieved their results, find The Wright Brothers and the Birth of Aviation by Lester W. Garber, and The Wright Brothers as Engineers, An Appraisal & Flying with the Wright Brothers, One Man's Experience by Quentin Wald. Also, James Tobin's To Conquer the Air: the Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight.

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/08/2010 3:16 PM

Ron: In addition to the out-of-this-world Air Space Museum at the Smithsonium in DC I'm sure I remember a similar one at Wright-Pat that blew me away. Your working there had to have been an incredible experience and certainly made you well prepared to write that dazzling review of the The Bishop's Boys. Which begs the question: what is the relevance of the title, Bishop's Boys? I'll find out when I get my hands on the book but that might be a while until I finish the tome I'm working my way through on James Monroe. It's a great read and I can recommend it very highly, particularly if you're as uninformed about President Monroe as I.

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#5
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Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/08/2010 4:22 PM

Wilbur & Orville were two of the sons of Milton Wright, Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and his wife, Susan.

The Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB is one of the worlds' best, no question. I never worked in the museum, but rather mostly in laboratories in the Reconnaissance Division at the base. In those days, the museum was on another area of the base, so I didn't normally get near it. I did go there before, during, and since my time working at WPAFB. Now, I live about two hours' drive from the EAA museum in Oshkosh, WI, another great one that I don't get into often enough.

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Re: Book Review - The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

12/08/2010 4:54 PM

Thanks, Ron, for enlightening me on that issue. Ministers' sons are often hell raisers...Wilbur and Orville, being sons of a Bishop must have been over the top after work!

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