The 10 Best Books on the Wright Brothers

Essential Books on the Wright Brothers

wright brothers books

There are countless books on the Wright brothers, and it comes with good reason, they were American aviation pioneers generally credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane.

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance,” Orville remarked.

In order to get to the bottom of what inspired two of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on the Wright brothers.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers – bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio – changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

To Conquer the Air by James Tobin

wright brothers books

For years, Wilbur Wright and his younger brother, Orville, experimented in obscurity, supported only by their exceptional family. Meanwhile, the world watched as Samuel Langley, armed with a contract from the US War Department and all the resources of the Smithsonian Institution, sought to create the first manned flying machine. But while Langley saw flight as a problem of power, the Wrights saw a problem of balance.

Thus their machines took two very different paths – Langley’s toward oblivion, the Wrights’ toward the heavens – though not before facing countless other obstacles. With a historian’s accuracy and a novelist’s eye, Tobin has captured an extraordinary moment in history.

The Bishop’s Boys by Tom Crouch

Brilliant, self-trained engineers, the Wright brothers had a unique blend of native talent, character, and family experience that perfectly suited them to the task of invention but left them ill-prepared to face a world of skeptics, rivals, and officials. Using a treasure trove of Wright family correspondence and diaries, Tom Crouch skillfully weaves the story of the airplane’s invention into the drama of a unique and unforgettable family. He shows us exactly how and why these two obscure bachelors from Dayton, Ohio, were able to succeed where so many better-trained, better-financed rivals had failed.

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone

The feud between this nation’s great air pioneers, the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, was a collision of unyielding and profoundly American personalities. On one side, a pair of tenacious siblings who together had solved the centuries-old riddle of powered, heavier-than-air flight. On the other, an audacious motorcycle racer whose innovative aircraft became synonymous in the public mind with death-defying stunts. For more than a decade, they battled each other in court, at air shows, and in the newspapers. The outcome of this contest of wills would shape the course of aviation history – and take a fearsome toll on the men involved.

Birdmen sets the engrossing story of the Wrights’ war with Curtiss against the thrilling backdrop of the early years of manned flight, and is rich with period detail and larger-than-life personalities: Thomas Scott Baldwin, or “Cap’t Tom” as he styled himself, who invented the parachute and almost convinced the world that balloons were the future of aviation; John Moisant, the dapper daredevil who took to the skies after three failed attempts to overthrow the government of El Salvador, then quickly emerged as a celebrity flyer; and Harriet Quimby, the statuesque silent-film beauty who became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. And then there is Lincoln Beachey, perhaps the greatest aviator who ever lived, who dazzled crowds with an array of trademark twists and dives – and best embodied the romance with death that fueled so many of aviation’s earliest heroes.

The Wright Sister by Richard Maurer

wright brothers books

On a chill December day in 1903, a young woman came home from her teaching job in Dayton, Ohio, to find a telegram waiting for her. The woman was Katharine Wright; the telegram, from her brother Orville, announced the first successful airplane flight in history. In this, the first authoritative biography of the Wright brothers’ sister, Richard Maurer tells Katharine’s story.

Smart and well-educated, she was both confidant and caregiver to her bachelor brothers, managing many of their affairs, traveling with them on frequent trips to demonstrate and promote their invention, and caring for them when they were sick from disease and injury. In doing so, she gave up her ambitions as a teacher and her early hopes of marriage. Only in middle age, when the Wrights’ fame and fortune were secure, did she find personal happiness, with a man she had met years before in college – something that was to cost her the affection of her surviving brother Orville, who had come to depend on her, and who disowned her after her marriage.

Richard Maurer’s account of this little-known but pivotal member of the Wright family is based on an in-depth study of her personal papers and of the Wright family archives. Katharine’s portrayal of family life in the Wright household, her descriptions of the wondrous early days of flight, and her intimate recollection of her reclusive, publicity-shy brothers cast a unique and fascinating light on one of the twentieth century’s great technical achievements and two of its most famous men.

The Dayton Flight Factory by Timothy R. Gaffney

The Wright brothers are known around the world as the inventors of the airplane. But few people know Wilbur and Orville invented the airplane in Dayton, Ohio – their hometown – not in North Carolina, where they tested it. Efforts to preserve historic places in the Dayton region where the Wright brothers lived and worked are paying off.

Today, you can stroll the Wright brothers’ neighborhood, see the original 1905 Wright Flyer III and walk the prairie where they flew it. A project to restore the Wright brothers’ factory – the first American factory built to produce airplanes – will complete the picture. In this book, author Timothy R. Gaffney uses historical research and today’s aviation heritage sites to retell the story of the Wright brothers from a hometown perspective.

The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright

For the first time, nearly seventy of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s published writings are brought together in a single, annotated reference. Spanning the decades from the brothers’ turn-of-the-century experiments with gliders until Orville’s death in 1948, the articles describe the design of their aircraft, early test flights, and camp life at Kitty Hawk. Because Wilbur’s sudden death in 1912 ended any hope that the Wrights would produce a book of their own, the articles collected in this volume are their only published words.

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman

wright brothers books

Chronicling Orville and Wilbur Wright’s lives from their early mechanical work on toys and bicycles through the development of several flyers, this gem among books on The Wright brothers follows the siblings through their achievements – not only the first powered, sustained, controlled airplane flight, but the numerous improvements and enhancements that followed, their revolutionary airplane business, and the long legacy of that first brief flight.

Russell Freedman’s writing brings the brothers’ personalities to life, enhancing the record of events with excerpts from the brothers’ writing and correspondence, and accounts of those who knew them. Illustrated with numerous historical photographs – many taken by the Wright brothers themselves – this is a concise, extremely reader-friendly introduction to these important American inventors.

The Wright Brothers Photographs

In December 1903, among the windswept sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio started up the custom-built motor set atop a wing made from wood and cloth. That afternoon, Wilbur and Orville Wright became the first humans to successfully complete a flight in a powered, heavier-than-air craft. The age of aviation had begun.

For history’s sake, starting in 1900, the brothers also hauled another new technology of the era into the remote Outer Banks, a portable photographic camera. Over the course of the following years and decades, the Wright brothers captured the remarkable evolution of aviation as it moved from an impossible dream to a full-blown industry. The Wrights’ photographs, preserved by the Library of Congress, and presented here in this collection, provide an intimate look into the Wright family’s life as well as an astounding chronicling of the brothers’ process of inventing, testing, and flying their pioneering flyers.

How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton

To create is human. Technology pioneer Kevin Ashton has experienced firsthand the all-consuming challenge of creating something new. Now, in a tour-de-force narrative twenty years in the making, Ashton demystifies the sacred act, leading us on a journey through humanity’s greatest creations to uncover the surprising truth behind who creates and how they do it.

From the crystallographer’s laboratory where the secrets of DNA were first revealed by a long-forgotten woman, to the Ohio bicycle shop where the Wright brothers set out to “fly a horse,” Ashton showcases the seemingly unremarkable individuals, gradual steps, multiple failures, and countless ordinary and usually uncredited acts that lead to our most astounding breakthroughs.


If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on the Wright brothers, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on Henry Ford!