From hero to pariah: the life of Charles Lindbergh is a fascinating study.
*The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming. Schwartz + Wade, 2020, 321 pages.
Reading level: Teen, ages 15-18
Recommended for: ages 13-up
No one was more famous in his time. American culture in the 1920s was swimming in frivolous pursuits and sensational news, and the “Lone Eagle’s” flight across the Atlantic, in a machine constructed of plywood and canvas, came like lightning flash of inspiration: the ultimate in heroism. Even so, if nothing else happened to Lindbergh he might have become a footnote in the history of flight. Instead he was hurled into the spotlight again when his firstborn son, barely two, was abducted from his nursery, launching a national trauma while police and the distraught father searched. Six weeks later the child turned up dead (probably by accident), not far from the Lindbergh home. After the sensational trial, news from Europe took over the headlines, and Lindbergh (a eugenicist convicted about the superiority of the white race) became a tool of the Third Reich. His “America First” efforts captured the worst elements of right-wing xenophobia, and from national hero he became a national pariah, only partly redeemed by test-piloting for the US Air Force during WWII.
The dramatic life of a shy, mechanically-gifted loner is fascinating biographical material, and this is an outstanding example of the genre. Though marketed to young readers, it doesn’t at all look like a kids’ biography—my library shelved it with adult books. Yet it’s riveting for both teens and adults—a fascinating study of a complex man with many faults despite his courage and talents. Especially interesting is the account of how this agnostic, rigid, and cold personality became something of a mystic in mid-life. While testing a P-47 Thunderbolt during the War, he almost blacked out at 41,000 feet and had to put the plane into a steep dive. The close call handed him an epiphany:
The factory [as Lindbergh later wrote in his memoir], was “nothing but a temple of the god of science at which we moderns worshipped.” But science was a false god, he now realized, “hypnotizing [man] with its machines, dulling his senses with its knowledge, destroying its culture with its bombs.” It blinded him from high values. It separated him from God.
Human lives are inherently interesting, and an example of 20th-century pretentions brought down, Lindbergh’s life is instructive as well.
- There is a very small amount of quoted profanity.
- The kidnapping episode is almost unbearably sad (especially for moms!)
Overall rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic/literary value: 5
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Also at Redeemed Reader:
- For other books by Candice Fleming, see our reviews of Strongheart (the first movie wonder dog), The Family Romanov, and three picture books: Papa’s Mechanical Fish, Giant Squid, and Honeybee.
- For a whimsical history of the early days of flight, see Lindbergh: the Tale of a Flying Mouse. Older readers will enjoy The Wright Brothers: Nose-Diving into History.