Inventing Flight:
The Wright Brothers and Their Predecessors

John D. Anderson Jr

John Hopkins University Press 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
In this short account of the invention of heavier-than-air flight, aeronautical engineer Anderson focuses on the people involved. He only touches in passing on their personal lives, however, concentrating on the course of their experimental work and the development of their ideas.

Anderson goes back to Leonardo da Vinci and covers figures such as William Henson and Alphonse Penaud, but he devotes most attention to George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal, Samuel Langley, and of course the Wright brothers. He traces the links between them and the development of a common body of aerodynamic theory and practical aeronautical knowledge — and also highlights the ways in which failures of communication or misunderstandings forced reinvention, and the divide between inventors and physicists.

Aspects of the science — dihedral angles, aspect ratios, and suchlike — are explained in separate boxes, but only where they are necessary to understand the progress of aeronautical technology; there's no attempt at a systematic exposition of the science of flight.

The Wright brothers have been written about extensively, but Inventing Flight does an excellent job of placing their innovative experimental approach in its historical background. I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of technology, not just aeronautical buffs.

July 2005

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%T Inventing Flight
%S The Wright Brothers and Their Predecessors
%A Anderson Jr, John D.
%I John Hopkins University Press
%D 2004
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0801868750
%P 176pp