Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amelia Earhart Book Review

You can't say that you don't get a wide variety of topics covered in this blog. I'm going to change things up a bit with a book review featuring Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s no Limit, by Lori Van Pelt. A Young Adult Novel in the American Heroes series.

Often when I am speaking to an audience, I joke about how people respond when I say that I’m a pilot. Sometimes, but thankfully not too often, someone will remark, “Huh. I didn’t know there were any girl pilots.” To which I respond, sometimes out loud, “Well, surely you’ve heard of Amelia Earhart. There’s one.”

The problem is that Amelia Earhart has become so well known for her tragic end instead of her many accomplishments. Not only was she the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license, she was also instrumental in forming the Ninety-nines, the Organization of Women Pilots and served as its first president. This book chronicles her many feats of “firsts” (most of which I was completely unaware) without sounding like a textbook making it appropriate for pre-teens on up and I heartily recommend it.

Lori Van Pelt’s retelling of the challenges the racers endured during first Women’s Air Derby is riveting, as well as her other flights in sometimes minimally engineered or maintained airplanes long before the technological advances that have made pilot tasks today center around an autopilot and a flight management system. In my earliest days of flying, I remember hearing, and much to my great chagrin, repeating, that Amelia was not “a very good pilot.” This book relates those retold incidents that might have led to this criticism, and explains the certainly justifiable and understandable circumstances of many of them. As accounts from that time relate, in the early days of aviation the odds against the pilots and the risks of catastrophic outcomes were much greater. These were the days were not too far away from the old adage of “a good landing is one you walk away from, a great landing is one after which you can use the airplane again.”

So what I love about this book is that it is such a warm, affectionate biography of who Amelia was and how it formed her personality and led her to achieve so many things in a flying career cut much too short. The story begins during her tomboy childhood and youth, relating a less than stellar family life that caused her to become more independent than the other women of her day. Though trained in nursing and social work, she was determined to become a pilot and was fortunate to be launched into the public eye by riding, not flying, as the first woman on a transatlantic flight (later successfully piloting herself I might add – and setting a speed record). As Van Pelt relates, for this girl who was captioned in her yearbook as “the girl in brown who walks alone,” her determination in getting her license strengthened her for the notoriety she was about to endure.

This book brings a depth to the legend that is Amelia Earhart. Although written for a young adult audience, I found it completely enjoyable as a light and informative read. Amelia was a tireless advocate for women in aviation, devoting every spare minute to speeches, lectures, and articles, all the while flying test and demonstration flights, breaking speed records, promoting women’s interest in aviation, becoming a VP for a commuter airline, advocating women’s rights, etc. And to be able to give her the respect she deserves as a pilot as well, you need the ability to see her at work in the cockpit that Van Pelt provides in her narratives.

The drama which unfolds during the preparations for her round the world record setting flight would have broken a weaker constitution. I was humbled by her seemingly inexhaustible energy. As Van Pelt describes, “…she continued her lecture schedule, took on additional work helping [her husband and manager] with preflight tour details, studied geography and weather throughout the world to better acquaint herself with the countries she would fly to, and even made time to engage in some campaigning for the Democrats during the presidential election year.” I doubt most people would have remained as poised and composed under the multitude of delays and mechanical difficulties.

Though there are more in-depth, comprehensive biographies of Amelia, this provides a well balanced overview of her life and her accomplishments. And is much more informative than the movie, “Amelia,” which scarcely touched on the numerous aspects to her life. Really, to understand Amelia, you have to read more about her and I suggest you start with reading this book. She gained the admiration of many with her flying skills, of the world with her feats, but remained modest and privately conscious of the limitations of her abilities and worked to overcome them. As she herself said, “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” Amelia did in fact achieve what most of us can only wish to do, to serve as a role model and inspire countless of pilots in the eighty three years since her brave attempt to do no less than circumnavigate the entire world.

 Please visit Lori Van Pelt's website to order the book. Other photos from Wikipedia.

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