Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator who was the first person to cross the Atlantic in an airplane in 1927, is often considered an American hero. Biographer Candace Fleming delves into his questionable and contradictory character, revealing a single-minded loner who, despite his bravery and mechanical genius, often found himself on the wrong side of history because of his outlier politics.
A self taught pilot and engineer, Lindbergh rose to fame after he successfully flew from New York to Paris in a single engine, canvas and wood constructed airplane called The Spirit of St. Louis (so named because the nine investors who provided the money for the plane were St. Louis- based businessmen.) That flight turned him into a huge celebrity. Along with the cash prizes and lucrative consulting contacts, it also set Lindbergh up for life financially. His fame and money were what undoubtedly led to his first child being kidnapped and held for ransom, a sad and shocking chapter of his life that ended in tragedy. As he aged, Lindbergh became enthralled by and involved in movements that are now seen as dangerous and deeply wrong, including eugenics and Nazism. His less extreme but still polarizing anti-immigrant rhetoric and “America First” beliefs are shared by many mainstream political organizations today. Although Lindbergh became a staunch environmentalist towards the end of his life, helping to save endangered species and eco-systems, he never quite admitted that many of his earlier stances were elitist and inhumane. Fleming saves the most shocking revelations of Lindberg’s life for last, telling a story of family secrets so melodramatic, it almost seems made up.
Fleming’s account is balanced, based on piles of research and Lindbergh and his wife Anne’s own diaries. She makes no judgements but just shares the facts, written in her clean, approachable prose and organized into short, fast paced chapters. I didn’t particularly like Lindbergh while I was reading about him, but I was fascinated by the larger-than-life events that shaped him. Though his politics were very problematic, there is no denying his life was unusual enough to grab any biographer’s interest. I’m just glad it snagged Candace Fleming’s! Coming to a library or bookstore near you February 2020.