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Book Review: “The Rise And Fall Of Charles Lindbergh”

LindberghI’ve come across some bizarre characters in biographies, particularly American bios for some reason. We may not be exceptional in other ways, but we sure lead the pack in producing notable head cases. Two salient examples are Howard Hughes and L. Ron Hubbard.

Yet of all the oddballs I’ve encountered, Charles Lindbergh is one of the strangest cats I’ve ever read about. Possibly the best pilot this country ever produced, undoubtedly brave with a brilliant, scientific mind, Lindbergh was a bundle of strange impulses and drives whose repellent qualities, most particularly his obsessive racism and anti-Semitism, made it difficult to sympathize with him, even considering his child’s kidnapping, one of the most notorious incidents of the 1930’s.

Of Swedish descent (this surprised me given his German name and notorious Teutonophilia), Lindbergh was from a second marriage with a large age gap between the parents and Lindbergh their only child. His wealthy father served as a Congressman. Lindbergh basically grew up with his mother, a controlling, distant woman who largely home schooled him. Due to this and being constantly on the move, Lindbergh spent no time with other children, a significant factor in his remote character and serious empathy deficiency. If Lindbergh wasn’t born with Asberger’s syndrome, his mom provided the right environment to make him that way with results good and bad. Lindbergh’s powers of will and concentration were superhuman, with outstanding results as a pilot. On the other hand, Lindbergh was aloof all his life. He also had engineer’s disease: he was always right about absolutely everything.

The bio moves briskly through Lindbergh’s early days as a pilot, the stupendous Atlantic crossing, a feat of courage, endurance, and will never to be matched again, the ensuing fame and adulation that was a curse for the painfully shy Lindbergh, his marriage to writer Anne Morrow that he designed as carefully as a blueprint for a new plane, her life together with this incredibly controlling man, and the awful kidnapping. The author efficiently summarizes the evidence, making it plain Hauptmann was guilty. Despite this awful tragedy, Lindbergh is less than sympathetic even here. Rather than let the police investigate, he took over, wasting time and money listening to obvious con men.

Charles and Anne moved on, having more kids along the way. Always in demand as a leading aviation expert and a huge celebrity, Lindbergh was sought after, nowhere more so than in Nazi Germany where Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering invited Lindbergh to see the newly revived air industry. Lindbergh accepted and happily swallowed the Nazi doctrine.

This is the worst aspect of Lindbergh’s personality (and he had a lot). He was a hardcore white supremacist, convinced civilization was about to be destroyed by black, brown, and yellow hordes, all insidiously controlled by Jews. Lindbergh became involved in the isolationist America First movement, openly siding with Hitler in the war’s early years before American entry into the conflict. This led to his reputation being seriously tarnished, no longer considered the brave, handsome, young man who embodied American values.

Lindbergh moved past this to some extent, becoming involved in aircraft production during WWII, even finally figuring how to get to the Pacific front where he flew fifty combat missions as a civilian, well into middle age. In postwar years he traveled, working diligently as an environmentalist. He also found time to have children in Germany with three separate women while still married to Anne and micromanaging her life and their kids when he was home. It was bigamy and very big of him too. This alone illustrates what an odd, almost sociopathic personality Lindbergh had.

This is a good biography, fast paced and easy to read. Ms. Fleming’s bibliography shows her previous books were in the young adult and middle grade fields, which may explain her gift for straightforward explanation and a highly readable narrative.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in aviation, 20th Century American history, and those who like a good read about a weird dude.

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