David McCullough and the Wright Brothers

The best-selling author talks about his new biography and what everyone should learn from history.

Stephen Henderson speaks with David McCullough, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, about his latest best-selling biography “The Wright Brothers.” The key points of their conversation:

  • His research process: McCullough says his main source of information when trying to get inside the lives of important figures is their personal correspondence. He says the art of letter writing is a disappearing phenomenon and it will be difficult for historians of the future to write about the significant people of today.
  • Flying past the skeptics: McCullough says the Wright brothers endured constant skepticism until 1908, five years after their first flight at Kitty Hawk. He says, “the world was instantly changed without anyone knowing it or caring.” It was not just that they built a plane that could fly; they had to learn how to fly it. He says the Wright brothers knew they could die every time they when up in their plane, praises their courage, and reminds listeners of the lessons they can learn from their story.
  • History worth learning: McCullough finds it refreshing to write a biography of someone who was not a politician. He says history isn’t just about politics and war, it is also about art, music, literature, invention, etc. and that often these turn out to be far more important. History, he says, “is the wide range of human capacity to advance with each generation” and the most important lessons the world can learn are those from failure, just as the Wright Brothers did over a century ago.

Click the audio link above to listen to the full conversation.