Twelve seconds, and 120 feet. This was the time and distance of the Wright Flyer’s maiden voyage on December 17, 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina—four miles north of Kitty Hawk. Orville Wright was the pilot during that incredible blink of an eye when man learned how to fly. His brother, Wilbur, ran at wingtip.

The Wright brothers flew several more times that day. The fourth and final attempt, with Wilbur at the helm, lasted fifty-nine seconds and traveled 852 feet. It may not sound impressive by modern standards. Yet in the early twentieth century, the fact that a human being—a wingless, grounded creature—soared in the air for nearly a minute changed our lives and intensified our dreams and ambitions forever.

This is the tale of Orville and Wilbur Wright that we’ve heard many times before. As Janet Maslin suggested in the New York Times Book Review on May...

 
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