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The Wright Brothers by David McCullough — My Highlights

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Chapter 1

Debate: Great at argumentation, leading to new insights
“Not that things always went smoothly. They could be highly demanding and critical of each other, disagree to the point of shouting “something terrible.” At times, after an hour or more of heated argument, they would find themselves as far from agreement as when they started, except that each had changed to the other’s original position.” (Location 69)

Chapter 2

Magical pairs in action

“Lilienthal had started gliding as early as 1869, and from the start he had been joined in his aviation experiments by a younger brother, which could only have given Wilbur and Orville a feeling of something in common.” (Location 397)

Totally insufficient means

“…they concluded that Lilienthal’s fatal problem had been an insufficient means of control—“his inability to properly balance his machine in the air,” as Orville wrote. Swinging one’s legs or shifting the weight of one’s body about in midair were hardly enough.” (Location 559)

Chapter 3

Being a great observer: Product people need to observe, compare and take notes

“The hen hawk can rise faster than the buzzard and its motion is steadier. It displays less effort in maintaining its balance.” (Location 769)

“Learning the secret of flight from a bird,” Orville would say, “was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.” (Location 786)

Chapter 4

Demanding work, where they applied scientific skill

The work was unlike anything the brothers had ever undertaken and the most demanding of their time and powers of concentration. They were often at it past midnight. As said later in the Aeronautical Journal of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, “Never in the history of the world had men studied the problem with such scientific skill nor with such undaunted courage.” (Location 1038)

Chapter 5 — December 17, 1903

It’s not enough to have a brilliant machine, but the operator needs immense mastery of flight

“…by reason of changes in wind velocity there is more support at times than is needed, while at others there is too little, so that a considerable degree of skill, experience, and sound judgment is required in order to keep the machine exactly in the rising current.” (Location 1332)

This is a great definition for hard work

“It had taken four years. They had endured violent storms, accidents, one disappointment after another, public indifference or ridicule, and clouds of demon mosquitoes. To get to and from their remote sand dune testing ground they had made five round-trips from Dayton (counting Orville’s return home to see about stronger propeller shafts), a total of seven thousand miles by train, all to fly little more than half a mile. No matter. They had done it.” (Location 1557)

You don’t always need capital to succeed

“…the Langley project had cost nearly $70,000, the greater part of it public money, whereas the brothers’ total expenses for everything from 1900 to 1903, including materials and travel to and from Kitty Hawk, came to a little less than $1,000, a sum paid entirely from the modest profits of their bicycle business.” (Location 1589)

Chapter 6

Don’t worry about the past, keep of iterating and moving forward

“Of course, they were pleased with the flight. But their first word with me, as I remember, was about the motor being damaged when the wind picked up the machine and turned it topsy-turvy. . . . They wanted a new one built right away. . . . They were always thinking of the next thing to do; they didn’t waste much time worrying about the past.” (Location 1633)

A new innovative game ushers new games that follow

When Columbus discovered America, he did not know what the outcome would be, Root would conclude his account. Not even “the wildest enthusiast” could have foreseen. “In a like manner these two brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men.” (Location 1789)

Brute force never works

“The best dividends on the labor invested,” they said, “have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.” (Location 1864)

Chapter 8

Being cultured, obtaining broad exposure and knowledge

Peyrey, unlike others, had discovered how exceptionally cultured Wilbur was, how, “in rare moments of relaxation,” he talked with authority of literature, art, history, music, science, architecture, or painting. To Peyrey, the devotion of this preacher’s son to his calling was very like that of a gifted man dedicating his life to a religious mission. (Location 2634)