NONFICTION

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

Random/Schwartz & Wade. Feb. 2020. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525646549.
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Gr 7 Up–Build a wall. America First. Foreign invaders. While these phrases echo standard Trump rally talking points, they were first uttered by Charles Lindbergh. Fleming digs into her subject’s complicated life to uncover his true character. Following the birth of aviation, the skies were dangerous and unruly. Anyone who wanted to fly could. Lindbergh heartily accepted the challenge: as a showman, an army pilot, an airmail pilot, and finally as the first man to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. His unprecedented feat turned him into an overnight sensation and also marked the beginning of his antipathy toward the press. Unfortunately, his fame brought tragedy when his first child was kidnapped and murdered. What followed was the original “trial of the century.” Fleming’s moment-by-moment narration of Lindbergh’s flight and the loss of his child evokes excitement and grief. But there is more to his story. Lindbergh was the creator of an artificial heart, an early environmentalist, an advocate of eugenics, a Nazi sympathizer, and a leader of the America First Committee. He derided a free press and blamed American Jewish people for leading the country into war. He glorified fascism while claiming to be a patriot. This biography, told in short, easy-to-read chapters, at times reads like a suspense novel. Fleming successfully deconstructs the public persona of Lindbergh and highlights how some of the aviator’s core values (nationalism, xenophobia) echo the country’s current political and social unrest.
VERDICT A must-read. Drawing on primary sources, including Lindbergh’s own journal, Fleming has crafted a cautionary tale of the downfalls of hero worship.

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