Flight to the Top of the World: The Ad­ven­tures of Wal­ter Well­man

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Adult Nonfiction - LAURA LEAVITT

David L. Bris­tow Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press (JULY) Hard­cover $29.95 (392pp) 978-0-8032-9678-7

David L. Bris­tow’s Flight to the Top of the World cap­tures an era of won­der in which in­cred­i­bly deadly en­deav­ors pushed the bound­aries of hu­man pos­si­bil­ity.

The nine­teenth- and early-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury ad­ven­tures of Wal­ter Well­man are the fo­cus. A high-pro­file jour­nal­ist and news­pa­per man, he dar­ingly ex­plored the Arc­tic and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of transatlantic flight. The book com­bines re­la­tion­ship-driven de­tails from Well­man’s daily life with broader his­tor­i­cal records for an en­ter­tain­ing look at a rarely-re­mem­bered ex­plorer.

Well­man’s story is more than a uni­di­rec­tional tale of ex­plo­ration. His jour­nal­ism ca­reer saw him jump from be­ing a lo­cal writer to rep­re­sent­ing pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions in the press. His abil­ity to mar­shal cap­i­tal for dan­ger­ous and un­cer­tain mis­sions like dogsled trips to the North Pole or di­ri­gi­ble flights across the At­lantic evinces both dar­ing and cun­ning. His suc­cesses are ul­ti­mately most ev­i­dent in his cap­tured abil­ity to bounce back from dis­ap­point­ments and in his in­flu­ence in the early stages of mod­ern me­dia, cov­er­ing sto­ries such as the early la­bor move­ment.

With amus­ing de­tails of how Well­man was seen by his com­pa­tri­ots, fam­ily, and friends, the book’s char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment moves like a novel’s while re­ly­ing on the his­tor­i­cal record. Sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, es­pe­cially those who joined in on Well­man’s global trips, round out the cast. Quotes from di­aries and doc­u­ments func­tion like di­a­logue.

The stakes re­main high; Well­man faces the con­stant pos­si­bil­ity of fi­nan­cial ruin or an icy death. Non­ex­pe­di­tion de­tails, like Well­man’s daugh­ter Rita’s quest for in­de­pen­dence and life as a writer, show how women were also seek­ing so­ci­etal change at the time.

Flight to the Top of the World is a riv­et­ing ac­count of turn-of-the-cen­tury Amer­ica and the vi­brant per­son­al­i­ties that fu­eled its dis­cov­er­ies.

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