Review: Atlantic Fever

Atlantic Fever
Joe Jackson


The era of the first flyers was a unique one, overlapping, as it did, with one of the high points of utopianism in human history. In Russia, Germany, China, and Italy, variations on a system were taking root that would kill millions in their pursuit of making everyone prosperous, the perfect human society. This desire for perfection in the affairs of humans brought increasing pressure on those who were trapped in the mundane, thus turning their thoughts to the sky, and it’s endless bounds, for the promise of the future. Flying was supposed to bring world peace by spreading understanding. Of course, flying was to have no such impact, but men could dream, and dream they did.

A major symbol of the triumph of flight was the heady pace of breaking records, including the desire to fly across the Atlantic, from New York to Paris. This book is a detailed look at that race. We all know the ending of the story, of course –“Lucky Lindy” stepping from his plane on an airfield in Paris, the first man to fly across the Atlantic.

The author begins by examining the social setting of the race across the Atlantic –the circumstances that led up to the offering of the Orteig Prize, and the hopes and dreams of a society that would deem this type of race important. The detail can be, and often is, overwhelming; one of the faults of this book is the amount of information crammed between it’s covers.

But the details are often fascinating, and often play into later developments that determine the final stages of the race. Interesting bits of information fall out, such as Lindbergh’s status as the only solo flyer in the race. The other teams believed that the future of long distance flight was in larger, heavier aircraft, and they were right. But these aircraft weren’t ready for prime time in that age; they were beset with problems and failures that caused them all to fail.

Some problems, of course, were caused by sheer human greed, the greed for glory and reputation. Even small crews fell to intrateam rivalry and problems. Where these teams failed, Lindbergh stepped in with his solo effort. The author states, in fact, that this is not so much a story of the great success of Lindbergh, but rather the great failure of so many others.

There are some points where the writer steps into the political; he rails against Prohibition, blaming it, in effect, for the failure of the first flight that almost made it, apparently shot down by a random shot from rum smugglers.

Other than these, however, this is a well written account of the first solo flight across the Atlantic, expansive in scope, and detailed in endeavor. For those who are interested in the history of flying, the history of America, or the real stories behind the first flight from New York to Paris, this book is a wellspring of useful information.

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