A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908-1918

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Yale University Press, Sep 2, 1996 - Transportation - 320 pages
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The invention of the aeroplane was both the realization of an age-old human fantasy and a portent of a great new future. This book tells the story of the ways in which powered flight captured the imagination of writers, artists and intellectuals, and helped to shape new visions of the world.

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The Birth of Aviation and Its Place in the Public Mind
A review by Daniel L. Berek
Robert Wohl broke from traditional aviation literature, simply presenting the chronology of an era or the
technical details of an aircraft type, to delve deeper into the question of how society perceived aviation in its infancy, how aircraft were portrayed in literature, art, and film, and how society was changed by this new invention. Although the subtitle has the dates 1908 to 1918, the story actually begins with the public's occasional glimpses of the secretive activities of the Wright brothers from their historic 1903 flight and Alberto Santos-Dumont's very public first European powered flight in 1906 in central Paris. The stark differences between both events are chronicled, as we move on to Louis Bleriot's successful flight across the English Channel. Then there were the spectacular public air shows, and people were overcome with the grace and speed of these wondrous new flying machines. However, the story of aviation changed dramatically with the onset of the World War I, the first war to use airplanes (rather than simply fixed balloons) first for reconnaissance and later, when engines became sufficiently powerful, as fighters and bombers. Of course the reality of war was very different from the heroic exploits of the flying aces, as shown in novels and film, as well as the celebrity worship of top pilots. In the final chapters, Wohl explores the many ways in which airplanes and aviation were portrayed by painters and poets, writers and artists, as well as national governments - the latter often as a tool of nationalism and propaganda.
This has to be the most thoroughly researched aviation book I have come across; the citations of original sources in a multitude of languages is astounding. The highly informative text is complemented by a profusion of illustrations, providing a visual representation to go along with the written. It is not the easiest book to read, but one that is well worth the effort for those of us who truly have "a passion for wings."
 

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About the author (1996)

Robert Wohl is Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles.

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