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Summary

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History, by journalist Ken O'Brien, recounts the struggles of a group of courageous women who were among the first of their gender to earn a pilot's license and compete as equals with men in a profession that was then extremely dangerous. Not only were the women battling rickety single-prop planes with dubious instruments and open cockpits, in which pilots were often blinded by smoke, but also the contemptuous and dismissive attitude of men, who sometimes went to considerable lengths to undermine them.

At first, women were allowed to enter air races, which was becoming a hugely popular pastime, in part, thanks to the machinations of wealthy promoter Cliff Henderson. The crowds were drawn not only by the novelty of the flying-machines, but also the not uncommon spectacle of a plane crash. Yet as the success of the races grew, Henderson, a leading bete noire of the book, banned the women from competing in them. Their fight to regain their place in this risky sport is one of the book's many inspiring episodes.

Probably the best-known name among the five is Amelia Earhart, a gifted and highly intelligent pilot, she would become the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight in 1932, before her famed disappearance in 1937.

Another is Ruth Nichols, a woman who needed to break free of the confining strictures of her wealthy background, and proved to be an absolutely fearless pilot.

Florence Klingensmith became an aviation mechanic, and wasn't averse to the dangerous, but crowd-pleasing stunt of wing-walking, all to help navigate the route to a pilot's license.

Louise Thaden, a young woman running a coal-delivery business while raising two children, studied intensely for a pilot's license in the limited time she could spare from her busy schedule.

Ruth Elder, an attractive woman who later acted in films, approached flying with a boldness that was jarring to her male competitors, often speaking of a desire to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in the years before Earhart's feat.

In all, a well-researched and inspiring account of the lives of five extraordinary women, and their dedication to pursue their passion to fly.