We step on and off aircraft these days routinely. Yet the action of a mammal flying through the air in a planned and directed manner in a machine is completely astonishing. The human ingenuity behind aviation is a marvel, and Tom D. Crouch ( is your best guide to appreciating it in a single volume study.


Crouch joyously reveals the history of aviation to us. Wealthy aristocrat George Cayley progressed from a helicopter toy (1796) and model gliders (1804) to a glider capable of lifting a human (1849). After Cayley came a parade of pioneers, including John Joseph Montgomery, the ‘first American to leave the ground on wings of his own design’ (1884). Otto Lilienthal made 2,000 glider flights, and his 1896 death during an airborne accident piqued the Wright Brothers’ interest.


After this came the rush of exhilarating exhibitions by those daredevils in their flying machines following the WWI aircraft production boom. With the Air Mail Act of 1925, ‘Post Office officials realized that they were laying the foundation for commercial aviation in the United States’. The Allies in WWII learned much from downed Messerschmitts and other Nazi rocket secrets, ushering in a new era of high-speed aerodynamics that cued a shift from aviation to aerospace (travel beyond earth’s atmosphere).


Computers also brought change; in-flight movies were introduced in 1961; and weather-beaten hangars were replaced by gleaming terminals. With international tourism came the spread of American commercial culture. The book concludes with September 11 and the airline losses and layoffs that followed. Crouch notes that his history was ’30 years in the making’, and his exhaustive research is evident in 42 pages of notes and a vast array of sources. There are 125 glorious illustrations. Capturing the romance of flight along with successes, failures and many memorable figures from Lindbergh to Yeager, this book is a worthy celebration of all aviation since the Wright Brothers’ first flight.


Check if this excellent book on aviation is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at


512 pages in W.W. Norton & Co.

First published 2003

ISBN  978-0393057676


Tom Crouch


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