Milton Wright, father of Wilbur and Orville, was an itinerant churchman embroiled in controversies who bequeathed to his sons firmness of purpose, stubborn independence and overweening pride, qualities that were to inform their lives. After the bachelor brothers perfected the world's first practical airplane, their extreme secretiveness and haughty manner alienated potential business partners. Determined to protect their invention, the duo became litigious, undertaking a string of patent-infringement lawsuits that consumed their energies and very possibly contributed to Wilbur's death at age 45 in 1912. Orville, who finally reaped a fortune from the sale of the Wright Company, spent his last years tinkering on small-scale projects. He died in 1948. Crouch ( A Dream of Wings ) interweaves family drama with the history of aviation in a riveting saga of ingenuity, competing claims, public adulation and technical innovation. More than 10 years in the writing, with benefit of cooperation from the Wright family, this comprehensive biography throws light as well on Will and Orv's long-suffering sister Katherine, head of the household (their mother died in 1889), who held the family together while their father crisscrossed the country. The book also contains fresh glimpses of rival pioneers--American, French, German--and their magnificent flying machines. There have been a number of fine biographies of the Wright brothers; this one ranks with the best. Photos. BOMC selection. ( June ).