The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of American Aviation

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Overview


In late May 1927 an inexperienced and unassuming 25-year-old Air Mail pilot from rural Minnesota stunned the world by making the first non-stop transatlantic flight. A spectacular feat of individual daring and collective technological accomplishment, Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris ushered in the modern age of commercial aviation.

In The Flight of the Century, Thomas Kessner takes a fresh look at one of America's greatest moments, explaining how what was ...

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Overview


In late May 1927 an inexperienced and unassuming 25-year-old Air Mail pilot from rural Minnesota stunned the world by making the first non-stop transatlantic flight. A spectacular feat of individual daring and collective technological accomplishment, Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris ushered in the modern age of commercial aviation.

In The Flight of the Century, Thomas Kessner takes a fresh look at one of America's greatest moments, explaining how what was essentially a publicity stunt became a turning point in history. Kessner vividly recreates the flight itself and the euphoric reaction to it on both sides of the Atlantic, and argues that Lindbergh's amazing feat occurred just when the world--still struggling with the disillusionment of WWI--desperately needed a hero to restore a sense of optimism and innocence. Kessner also shows how new forms of mass media made Lindbergh into the most famous international celebrity of his time, casting him in the role of a humble yet dashing American hero of rural origins and traditional values. Much has been made of Lindbergh's personal integrity and his refusal to cash in on his fame, but Kessner reveals that Lindbergh was closely allied with, and managed by, a group of powerful businessmen--Harry Guggenheim, Dwight Morrow, and Henry Breckenridge chief among them--who sought to exploit aviation for mass transport and massive profits. Their efforts paid off as commercial air traffic soared from 6,000 passengers in 1926 to 173,000 passengers in 1929. Kessner's book is the first to fully explore Lindbergh's central role in promoting the airline industry--the rise of which has influenced everything from where we live to how we wage war and do business.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Kessner (history, Graduate Ctr., CUNY; Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Dominance, 1860–1900) breathes new life into Lindbergh historiography by showing how this obscure midwesterner's acclaimed solo New York-to-Paris flight in May 1927 was both a watershed event in history and a transformative influence on the pilot's own life. Kessner meticulously re-creates the trials and triumphs of "Lindy's" transatlantic crossing and the public's frenzied reaction to it on both sides of the pond. Despite Lindbergh's pose of financial indifference, Kessner reveals that he was handled by powerful businessmen who sought to exploit his celebrity for the emerging field of commercial aviation. As the book progresses, Kessner portrays Lindbergh in an even harsher light, e.g., relating to his marriage to Anne Morrow, defense of isolationism in the face of growing Nazi aggression, racist sentiments, overseas liaisons, and bitter feud with the Roosevelt administration. Lindbergh's belated interest in environmentalism, according to Kessner, was to help repair damage to his brand. VERDICT The splendid, far-reaching analysis of one of American history's most enigmatic figures will satisfy the scholar, and the deft use of colorful anecdotes will appeal to general readers. Highly recommended.—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
From the Publisher

"Kessner's fresh perspective breathes new life into Lindbergh's tale." --David Cohen, Philadelphia Inquirer

"It's difficult to imagine how anything new could be written about Charles Lindbergh. But Thomas Kessner has examined his subject more deeply than any other biographer.... Kessner weaves a fascinating tale, chronicling Lindy's many accomplishments but also revealing someone who clearly never appreciated the full extent of his notoriety." --Aviation History

"Proving again that true tales are every bit as strange and sometimes even more compelling than fictional ones, Thomas Kessner's The Flight of the Century not only evokes a critical moment in our history, but re-introduces an iconic American whom we thought we knew, but really didn't. This is great history--a fascinating story told by a masterful storyteller."--David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie and The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

"In his brilliant and sensitively drawn portrait of Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Kessner not only brings this deeply flawed American hero to life; he vividly reconstructs the historical context in which the aviator's life played out. Kessner deftly reveals how and why Lindbergh and his flight became a juggernaut through the years of prosperity and depression, the battle over fascism and the fear of communism, and the moral and social dilemmas prompted by science and technological advances. This book is a must for anyone hoping to understand modern America."--Carol Berkin, author of Revolutionary Mothers and Civil War Wives

"The splendid, far-reaching analysis of one of American history's most enigmatic figures will satisfy the scholar, and the deft use of colorful anecdotes will appeal to general readers. Highly recommended." --Library Journal

"Mr. Kessner has the skills of a professional historian and a nice turn of phrase." --Daniel Ford, The Wall Street Journal

"Kessner provides an excellent addition to the literature on Charles Lindbergh and his remarkable flight from New York to Paris. The book will provide researchers with a deeper understanding of Lindbergh's complex character, including how this engineering school dropout could plan such a difficult flight while others, better educated and financed, had failed.... This fascinating account will be valuable to readers interested in aviation history. Highly recommended." --Choice

"Lindbergh's life and his influence on aviation in particular has been rendered in all its contradictions in Thomas Kessner's The Flight of the Century." --In Flight USA

"a thoughtful, well-written and well-researched historical synthesis on Lindbergh and his significance for American culture" --American Studies Journal"

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Thomas Kessner is Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of many books, including Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Dominance, 1860-1900 and Fiorello H. LaGuardia and the Making of Modern New York, which was a New York Times Notable Book.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Note
Introduction
1. Early Life
2. The Flight
3. A Hero's Reception
4. America Flies
5. Lindbergh and Celebrity Culture
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

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Customer Reviews

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