Monday, December 9, 2013

Focus ("The Aviators" by Winston Groom)

For whatever reason, 2013 saw renewed interest in Charles Lindbergh, to the point where reading about him--sometimes on his own, sometimes as part of a larger historical narrative--became downright nauseating. (As a simple man almost entirely focused on aviation, Lindbergh and his accomplishment become tiresome almost immediately.) Lynne's Olsen's Those Angry Days attempted to depict Lindbergh and Franlin Delano Roosevelt as lead opponents in the run-up to World War II, with Lindbergh the isolationist and Roosevelt the interventionist; needless to say, Olson's attempt at making both men into bitter adversaries fell a little flat--the two men only met once, and both had greater antagonists beyond each other. Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic Ocean featured prominently in Bill Bryson's One Summer:  America 1927, though Bryson's focus on that year's many key players--Coolidge, Capone, Ruth, Byrd, Ford, Dempsey, Sacco and Vanetti--allowed him to weave a grand quilt without over-indulging in too much of one figure or the other. And Richard Moe's Roosevelt's Second Act, concerning Roosevelt's unprecedented push for a third presidential term, coupled with the growing war in Europe, assigned Lindbergh to supporting-actor status, if that, though he was still treated as though he and Roosevelt were opponents in a public-opinion boxing match.

Winston Groom's The Aviators does right not only by Lindbergh but by history itself. His three subjects--Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, and Jimmy Doolittle--were all pioneering aviators alive at roughly the same time who each had a direct and profound impact on World War II...and other than a slight mention of their similarities in the book's opening pages, which includes the role played by an absent or deceased father during their formative years, Groom leaves them alone to follow their own historical paths without forcing each of their narrative paths to cross. Groom could easily have turned his book into a thesis on aviation supported by the connections between each man--in fact, his lengthy subtitle seems to suggest this is the focus of his just-as-lengthy work--but he keeps them separated, not just by their roles in the same world events, but in chapters all their own. Rarely if ever throughout the 450-plus pages of Groom's book do the men meet, even in rhetorical flourishes, and everyone--Groom, his subjects, and his readers--are better for it.