Wright Brothers, Wrong Story: How Wilbur Wright Solved the Problem of Manned Flight

William Hazelgrove. Prometheus, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-1-633884-58-8

The idea that Orville and Wilbur Wright were equals in ushering in the era of manned flight is a myth, posits Hazelgrove (Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair) in this intriguing recasting of the brothers’ now-legendary story. “The truth was,” he declares, “that Wilbur was the primary inventor and pilot”; Orville was “a glorified mechanic assisting his older, smarter, genius brother.” This fact was buried due primarily to two factors: the famous photo of the 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, which immortalized Orville’s turn in the plane and thereby eclipsed Wilbur’s subsequent longer ride, and Wilbur’s early death from typhoid fever in 1912, which gave his brother 36 years to shape their story. Hazelgrove makes a strong case, citing numerous primary sources, notably Wilbur’s correspondence with engineer and aviation researcher Octave Chanute. The writing, however, can be rambling and repetitive, and awkward fictionalized passages from various characters’ perspectives distract from the solid thesis (“Wilbur turned, stared out the window.... Sand. Yes, the sands of time would cover it all.... This [plane] was one of his babies. Of course he would never have children...”). But despite these flaws, Hazelgrove’s original take on two of the pioneers of human flight will greatly interest flight buffs and popular-history aficionados. Agent: Leticia Gomez, Savvy Literary Services. (Dec.)