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The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of American Aviation

by Thomas Kessner, Oxford University Press, 2010, $27.95.

 It’s difficult to imagine how anything new could be written about Charles Lindbergh. But Thomas Kessner has examined his subject more deeply than any other biographer, crafting a portrait of a very complex human being, a loner who became a family man, a celebrity who was unable to cope with his fame in the aftermath of completing an aviation “mission impossible.”

Kessner weaves a fascinating tale, chronicling Lindy’s many accomplishments but also revealing someone who clearly never appreciated the full extent of his notoriety. Lindbergh was apparently uninterested in wealth and constantly strained to keep the world at arm’s length. Here is an aviator with uncommon potential who deservedly became a national hero, yet he remained aloof from the public, committed to following his own course, no matter what the consequences were for his family and his associates. In fact, Kessner shows us a character who seemed to lack compassion for those around him, who always dominated his wife, Anne, and their children. Kessner also reveals that Lindbergh had serious relationships with several German women, which “produced at least three Lindbergh families and seven children.”

Hero worship aside, Charles Lindbergh remains an iconic figure, an enigmatic individual whose influence on America’s aviation industry is undeniable. Kessner’s exhaustive analysis gives us a more penetrating view of Lindy the man than we have ever seen before.


Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.