The Spectacle of Flight

Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950

Robert Wohl

View Inside Price: $35.00

May 28, 2007
376 pages, 8 1/2 x 10 1/2
280 b/w + 80 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300122657

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In the decades following the First World War, when aviation was still a revelation, flight was perceived as a spectacle to delight the eyes and stimulate the imagination. Historian Robert Wohl takes us back to this time, recapturing the achievements of pioneering aviators and exploring flight as a source of cultural inspiration in the United States and Europe.

Wohl begins the story of flight in this era with a fresh account of the impact of Charles Lindbergh’s dramatic New York-Paris flight, then goes on to explain how Mussolini identified his Fascist regime with the modernist cachet of aviation. Wohl shows how the Hollywood film industry—drawing on the talents of such director-flyers as William Wellman and Howard Hawks and the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes—created the aviation film; how writers such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry helped foster France’s self-image as the “winged nation”; and how the spectacle of flight reached its tragic apotheosis during the bombing campaigns of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Generously illustrated with rare photographs, paintings, and posters and elegantly written, this book offers a gripping account of aviation and its hold on the popular imagination during the years between 1920 and 1950.

Robert Wohl is Distinguished Professor of History, University of California at Los Angeles.

“Wohl’s enduring contribution is to analyze these promiscuous twentieth-century combinations of technology, art, nationalism, and spectacle, and to do so with unrivaled knowledge and remarkable insight.”—Peter Fritzsche, author of A Nation of Flyers

"The Spectacle of Flight should not be confused with your average coffee table book. . . . [Wohl] has written an engaging treatise. . . . Luckily, with this book, we won’t soon forget aviation’s power and influence on our cultural history."—Bettina H. Chavanne, Air & Space

"This book, illustrated with rare photographs, paintings and posters, offers a gripping account of the rise of aviation and its hold on the popular imagination from Charles Lindbergh's sensational New York-Paris flight to the shock and awe of the bombing campaigns of World War II."—Avionics News

“Fascinating and beautifully written. . . . With its evocative illustrations and well-researched text so much comes back to us from another time. . . . I was riveted.”—Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

“A generously illustrated thematic study of aviation as cultural inspiration. . . . This technically precise, highly readable, and well-researched book is recommended for social, intellectual, transportation, and aviation collections and all libraries.”—Library Journal

"[A] rich and varied book. . . . Complemented by rare and evocative illustrations. . . . Working with an abundance of incidents, images and first-person accounts that have been surprisingly little explored until now, Wohl’s achievement has been to recall for us the lives and passions of aviation’s pioneers and to demonstrate how every area of modern culture, from films and literature to architecture and modern design, owes inspiration to them and their godlike spectacle of flight."—Michael Haag, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Wohl's] chosen areas of focus are carefully selected, powerfully written and absorbing..." - Julian Freeman, The Art Book, February 2006

'Robert Wohl charts in fascinating detail the manifold reverbarations of flight, literary, political, artistic, intellectual. Much more than a plane spotter's feast, this is a thoughtful, wide-ranging, meticulous (as befits a history professor) analysis of arguably the most salient new fact of the time.' - Montagu Curzon, The Spectator

“Robert Wohl’s latest history of flight [is] a luscious read taking us back to a time when the bloom was still very much on the aviation rose. . . . This is not a technical history, but one of those rare gems that brings to life an achingly beautiful epoch disintegrated by the ordinary forward march of progress and the cataclysm of 1939-1945. . . . We are fortunate to enjoy the best of all aviation worlds, a situation bound to only get better, and one we will appreciate more thanks to works like Spectacle of Flight.”—Ron Laurenzo, Washington Times

'Engagingly written and lavishly illustrated. . . . This highly accessible cultural history stands out as much for its skilful use of pictorial and textual sources. Wohl deserves a wide readership for uncovering the destructive as well as the creative impulses that have contributed to the making of a technology that present-day society could not function without.' - Bernhard Rieger, History Today, April 2006

"Wohl's book does honour to his first installment and affirms him as a leading cultural historian of aviation. The work offers new directions for others to follow, and spaces for many to add to the beautiful canvas he has begun."—Guillaume de Syon, Canadian Journal of History

"The golden age of flight was a highly compressed, fleeting moment. Robert Wohl's beautifully illustrated book manages to capture that moment in all its drama and intensity. . . . This fine book provides an understanding of why images of flight still exhilarate even as flight itself becomes ever more alienating."—John R. Gillis, The Journal of Modern History