In the popular imagination, Charles Augustus Lindbergh is one of the greatest heroes of this century: that single-minded, serious farm boy from the American Middle West who flew nonstop across the treacherous vastness of the Atlantic Ocean by himself, a feat as astonishing today in an age of missiles and jets as it was in 1927; the gilded youth whose life was to be badly scarred by the kidnaping of his two-year-old son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Junior; the American hero who “stooped” to accept a medal from top Nazi, Hermann Göring, thus opening himself to charges of betraying his country. Those three images are what endure, but are they the images we should summon forth? In his Autobiography of Values, Lindbergh tells us “no.” We come to know him as far more than the daring and naïve pilot of the Spirit of St. Louis, the grief-stricken father of a kidnaped, murdered son, or the man heralded by an evil State. We see him as a complex, opinionated, thoughtful, multifaceted man. He was statesman, cultural ambassador, businessman, scientist of amateur rank, writer, and philosopher.
That his autobiography, written in the twenty years preceeding his death in 1974, exists at all is due to the efforts of his friend, editor, and publisher, William Jovanovich of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, who carefully went through enormous amounts of writing and sifted the essential from the irrelevant. The resulting manuscript is marred by a stylistic roughness and lack of flow which can be attributed to the fact that Lindbergh had not done the necessary rewriting before he died. As unpolished and dull as some of its chapters are, the Autobiography of Values is well worth reading, for the author is a latter-day Renaissance Man who did things most of us only dream about doing. Very often, he writes movingly:I cherish the illusion of being substance, yet I am as much the spatial nothingness of atoms. I am as empty and as potent as the space between stars. . . . I am a specter cleft by swords.
Yet, he can utter things specious and absurd as well. The book is a both irritating and tantalizing philosophical commentary which has as its subject not so much Charles Lindbergh, hero, but Charles Lindbergh, philosopher, trying to make sense out of his troubled century.
Much is to be learned from this autobiography that was heretofore unknown about Lindbergh: his reasons for marrying Anne Morrow, the extent of his belief in Social Darwinism, his reactions to war, his close escapes from death. We discover the complexity of a man too often simplified for the sake of “good press,” for he was a practical visionary, a peace-loving fighter pilot, a privacy-loving celebrity, a patriot who believed that man must advance beyond nationalism. Yet, like any of the many books about Lindbergh, this one disappoints those readers searching for a definitive account of his life and times. He simply defies easy labels.
Perhaps one of the most apparent hallmarks of this autobiography is the author’s studied “matter-of-factness,” his straightforward way of discussing events. When those topics come up about which everyone wants to know as much as possible (the cross-Atlantic flight, his European reception after the flight, his married life, his feelings about the kidnaping, and his sojourn in Nazi Germany), Lindbergh passes them off as affairs of no real import. For example, his discussion of the landing of the Spirit of St. Louis is relegated to one sentence: “The sky was clear; the stars came bright; I circled Eiffel’s tower and landed at the airdrome of Le Bourget thirty-three and a half hours after my take-off on Long Island.” Yet, infuriating as this...
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