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The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough
320 pages / 2015

Match an astonishing story with a superb storyteller and what more could we ask for? David McCullough clearly had fun delivering a story that, if it weren’t true, would never be believed – the Wright brothers seem simply too good to be true. These two former journalists, now bike builders, simply decide one day to get into the plane building business. They begin by firing off a letter to the Smithsonian Institution to ask for all the information that can be had about flight because they are determined to succeed where all others have failed.

McCullough gives us the measure of these two men, by highlighting just how audacious their goal really was. At the time many thought human flight was an impossibility, and based this conclusion on the decades of failed experiments that preceded the Wrights’ interest. And while the two brothers are not poor, they don’t have the resources some other experimenters have been able to muster. So how could the Wrights manage what they did? McCullough credits it to determination, brilliance, patience, curiosity, and, did we mention determination?

At 320 pages this might seems a bit on the big/intimidating side. But with 50+ pages devoted to the footnotes and index, it isn’t nearly as large as it seems. Who should read it? Anyone with an interest in aviation, or underdog stories, would love it. But I would most like to see this in the hands of young men and older teens. This would be a wonderful book to inspire them to investigate, experiment, study, dream, and work hard. That’s what the Wrights had going for themselves, and look at how far it took them!

To be clear, this isn’t a specifically Christian book. Their father was a church bishop, and a man of principle and dedication, but he didn’t seem all that worried about his boys’ irregular church attendance. While the two brothers were always very strict about taking the Sabbath rest, there isn’t all that much in here about their relationship with God. So a fascinating biography but not a spiritual one.


Up Next


Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Winston Churchill

by John Perry 158 pages / 2010 Though the man himself has been gone 50 + years now, the myth is enjoying a revival. Churchill has made recent appearance in the big screen productions Churchill and Darkest Hour, and has also shown up on the small screen in the British drama Crown. For a more accurate accounting we need to turn to print, and there can’t be a better reasonably-sized biography than John Perry’s Winston Churchill. Since it's part of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's 16-book Christian Encounters biography series, I wondered if that meant Churchill himself was Christian. But, no, sadly it wasn't so. It turns out that while Churchill knew his Bible, and would sometimes speak of God – particularly in rousing speeches to the British public – he thought that, if there was a God, then God owed him heaven. As Perry makes clear, Churchill had a spiritual type of fatalism. Early on Churchill came to understand that no man is in charge of his own fate; the fact that one man lives through a battle and another dies has little to do with the men themselves. So when Churchill survived a number of dangerous encounters, he grew in his conviction that he had been destined for something great. Destined by Who? The answer to that question wasn't all that pressing for Churchill. Caution As a rule I don't recommend (or even review) books that take God's name in vain – why would I praise someone who is mocking God? This is especially true when it comes to fiction, however, a case can be made for exceptions when it comes to history. In detailing Churchill's agnostic attitude towards God (and his son Randolph's especially arrogant view) it would seem unavoidable that some of Churchill's blasphemous quips and comments would need to be shared. But while these quotes do seem necessary, this is an instance where less is more, so we can be grateful for the restraint with which Perry shares them. Conclusion Why, then, is Churchill being profiled in this Christian series of biographies? Because we can see God's hand on the man. He was destined – from birth God was preparing him to be the right man, for the right time. And He so arranged things that Churchill was in the right place too, as the war time prime minister. This was all beyond Churchill's arranging, but looking back, we can see how God laid out events, and how He can use whomever He will because, whether Christian or agnostic, all are a part of His plan. That's the real reason to read this biography – it is a treat to see how God has acted in history to preserve His Church. Churchill was a great man in ways, but he was also a petty one in others. He blew through taxpayer dollars to fund his own high living, and he was known to indulge in "alternative facts" in his writings. At a different time, he might have been run out of politics. That's the lesson here – the greatness of this great man can't be found in the man himself. Instead what's on display is God's gracious providence in providing for us the response we need to Hitler's Third Reich. Winston Churchill is a quick, eye-opening read that anyone, teens and up, would be interested in if they have the slightest interest in the subject. And while the paperback is running at $1,000 right now, the e-book can be had for just $5....


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