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Charles Lindbergh remains one of the enduring icons of the twentieth century. His solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 captured the imagination of the world. His act of daring seemed to redeem human heroism in the age of the machine. His modesty and refusal to commercialize his celebrity only added to his heroic stature. Marriage to Anne Morrow, daughter of a distinguished Wall Street banker and diplomat, appeared to put the storybook seal on Lindbergh’s good fortune. The happy couple became a photogenic team, exploring remote corners of the world by airplane. But there was a dark side to Lindbergh’s fame.

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The press hounded Lindbergh and his family. This constant exposure in the media contributed to the most harrowing event of the Lindberghs’ lives. In 1932, their two-year-old son was killed in a bungled kidnapping. The case quickly became a news sensation, the investigation and trial dragging on for years. Desperate to find some privacy, Lindbergh moved his family to Europe. Here Lindbergh watched the onset of war. He believed the conflict would be a disaster. He returned to America in 1939, hoping to persuade his countrymen to stay out of the war. His refusal to condemn Nazi Germany convinced many Americans that he was Nazi. During World War II, he would be blacklisted by the Roosevelt administration, and prevented from joining the military. After the war passions faded, Lindbergh’s contributions to aviation and environmentalism helped rehabilitate his reputation.

A. Scott Berg is the first biographer allowed full access to the Lindbergh papers. He has made the most of this privilege, and has written what should be the definitive biography of Charles Lindbergh. Berg captures the drama of Lindbergh’s life; he also gives readers a very human account of a hero who never forgot that he was a man.

Sources for Further Study

Business Week. November 9, 1998, p. 38.

The Christian Science Monitor. November 12, 1998, p. B5.

The Economist. CCCXLVII, November 14, 1998, p. NA.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 20, 1998, p. 3.

National Review. L, October 26, 1998, p. 50.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, September 27, 1998, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, August 24, 1998, p. 38.

Time. CLII, September 21, 1998, p. 103.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 30, 1998, p. 3.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, September 20, 1998, p. 1.

Historical Context

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Early Aviation
The idea flight goes back as long as humanity has existed with humans taking note of the ways that bird and human physiognomy resemble one another, except for birds’ wings. History has kept no record of most of the small-time dreamers who have tried to make false wings that would give humans flight. One of the earliest recorded flights occurred in England, circa 1100 A.D., when an unnamed monk attached wings to his hands, jumped off a tower, and glided almost six hundred feet before breaking both legs upon landing. Most attempts to fly were of a similar vein: optimistic, ambitious, and futile. Leonardo da Vinci, the great Renaissance inventor and artist, was one of the first to approach the subject of flight from a scientific perspective. In 1500, he drew in his notebook a sketch of a flying contraption that had broad hinged wings that flapped by the power of a man attached to them in a harness. Although da Vinci’s flying machine was never practical, some of his ideas about flight were useful to George Cayley, who, in 1804, designed a glider that was based on the ideas of propulsion, or forward motion, and the lift that could be achieved with the proper propulsion. These are the basic ideas that guide modern aviation.

The next pioneer in the advance of aviation was a German engineer, Otto Lilienthal, who realized that wing design was crucial to transferring propulsion into lift. Lilienthal made over 2,500 glider flights with wings...

(The entire section contains 4813 words.)

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Teaching Guide