Like Sex with Gods: An Unorthodox History of Flying


"Human flight is not a simple matter of science and technology. It is a continuing epic of dreams and obsession, of yearning and striving to harness the intellect in the service of the emotions."

In Like Sex with Gods: An Unorthodox History of Flight, Bayla Singer offers a unique approach to humanity's fascination with flying. Rather than merely tracing the factual prehistory of flight up to the success of the Wright Brothers, Bayla Singer considers the interaction and influence of our dreams, fantasies, ...

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"Human flight is not a simple matter of science and technology. It is a continuing epic of dreams and obsession, of yearning and striving to harness the intellect in the service of the emotions."

In Like Sex with Gods: An Unorthodox History of Flight, Bayla Singer offers a unique approach to humanity's fascination with flying. Rather than merely tracing the factual prehistory of flight up to the success of the Wright Brothers, Bayla Singer considers the interaction and influence of our dreams, fantasies, culture, and technology on the age-old quest to fly.

This enlightening study begins with the deities and other denizens of the heavens that humanity has created in its religion, literature, and art. At first a monopoly of the gods, flight came to interest humanity as a way to free itself from the physical and intellectual bonds of the earth.

The myth of flight eventually gives way to the pursuit of actual flight. Singer shows in compelling detail the many flying machines that have been created, including balloons, gliders, and kites. The accomplishment of the Wright Brothers and our successful trips into space are merely stops on a continuing journey, as our ancient dream of flight continues to push us to new and loftier places.

Filled with compelling stories and detailed illustrations, this book provides absorbing reading for aviation experts, those fascinated with the intimate relationship between technology and culture, and all of us who have even a passing interest in flying.

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Editorial Reviews

Deborah Douglas

“. . . a most intriguing work and one which shows promise . . . I think she has compiled a wonderful and rich collection of anecdotes and evidence.”--Deborah Douglas
. . . an intriguing, refreshing, interdisciplinary approach to a subject less familiar than it may seem.—Patricia Monaghan
Technology and Culture
"Singer looks for new links and ideas, providing us a new perspective. Even on a familiar subject, Singer has a different take. . . [It] is not what you'd expect in a history of flight. . . . Traditional histories of flight will now seem incomplete without this book as their companion."
reviewed by Dr. Christian Gelzer, deputy historian at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California
. . . a fascination odyssey based on a truly impressive range of scholarly and popular sources.
Library Journal
In what is indeed an "unorthodox history," independent scholar Singer reminds us that through the ages humankind's dream of flight has been fed by numerous motivating obsessions-spirituality, freedom, greed, altruism, play, romance, escapism, accomplishment, dominion, and science and technology-that ultimately coalesced and enabled humans to fly. She covers such topics as mythology, the design of flying machines like balloons, gliders, and kites, and the advent of the Wright brothers but eventually concludes, "It is only later that we look back and see an `invisible hand' fashioning all the elements into the eventual achievement of human flight." Despite the inclusion of a time line, Singer's nonlinear approach is challenging. (Richard Hallion's superb Taking Flight offers a more straightforward approach to the same subject matter.) Doubtless Singer would have had a field day divining the motivations of Santos-Dumont (1873-1932), the subject of this enthralling biography by Hoffman (a former president of Encyclopaedia Britannica). In comparing Santos-Dumont's life to his greatest contemporary rivals, the Wright brothers, the author pinpoints through juxtaposition the salient aspects of the Brazilian's career, buried within a rich historical context: Santos, who sought both notoriety and public approbation, was accepted by the fin-de-siecle aeronautical world because of his wealth and social standing; he had his airships built for him and used his dirigibles as personal runabouts in Paris; he did not believe in patents; and he was credited with flying the first powered aircraft in Europe. Like the Wright brothers, Santos was self-educated, showed little interest in women, and suffered terribly from inaccurate press reporting. Hoffman's fast-paced writing style carries the reader along on a wonderful journey from Santos's childhood on a Brazilian coffee plantation to his suicide at the beach resort of Guaraj . Throughout, he maintains a subtle balance between Santos's extraordinary lifestyle and his real achievements. Singer's Like Sex With Gods is recommended for aviation collections and large libraries; Hoffman's Wings of Madness is highly recommended for all libraries.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Former Smithsonian consultant Singer debuts with a panoptic exploration of the motivation and ingenuity that have marked our urge to fly. Getting humans aloft wasn't simply a matter of a bunch of inventive guys getting their heads together, borrowing here and there from the scientists in the past, and taming the physics of it all, Singer writes. No simple progression led inexorably to the Wright Brothers, but a wonderful tangle, a wildly braided stream of literature, religion, and art; liberation and redemption; sexuality and power. The author limns these strands in ample detail for so small a work, also examining how we harnessed the intellect to the service of the emotions. Singer works carefully back and forth through the ages, suggesting influences and context, taking account of the early role of dreams and mythology, flight as natural metaphor for communing with the spiritual and supernatural, the need for escape and freedom from authority. The Scientific Revolution shifts the emphasis to materialism and quantification, tentatively contesting the ungovernable fields of religion and aesthetics while frequently tipping its hat to the Inquisitor. Singer then tackles inventiveness: "aptitude, curiosity, inventiveness, luck—plus perception of a need or desire, societal support," a support, she notes, that cannot be found in the glory of being the first to fly. Monetary rewards certainly might accrue, and there were many struggles along these fronts: much stealing of ideas, ugly skirmishes over patent rights. But even more compelling was the age-old desire to break the earthly bonds, sample the sexual angle, taste the narrative of the myth. Of course, those who seek possible financialwindfalls generously allude to these elements in their advertising: just look at the young woman riding that bomb on the book’s cover. Able presentation of the piquant stew of emotional, literary, artistic, religious, and technological considerations that spurred—and spurred and spurred—the will to human flight. (22 b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585442560
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 5/19/2003
  • Series: Centennial of Flight Series , #3
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bayla Singer holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Currently an independent scholar, she has served as a consultant for the Smithsonian and has written a number of magazine and journal articles. Singer resides in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 3
Pt. I Dreams and Mythology
Ch. 1 Deities Aloft 13
Ch. 2 Artificial Wings and the Imitation of God 35
Ch. 3 Travel to Extraordinary Kingdoms 59
Pt. II Theory and Practice
Ch. 4 Exuberant Speculations 83
Ch. 5 Human-powered Flight: Ornithopters 101
Ch. 6 Gliders, Parachutes, and Kites 117
Ch. 7 Balloons and Dirigibles: Sustained Flight 146
Ch. 8 The Dream Continues 174
Glossary 185
Timeline 191
Notes 195
Annotated Bibliography 207
Index 215
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