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  • Writer's pictureGrieshaber

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

Last week, the Young Adult Library Association released its list of finalists for the 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Award and I noticed that a Charles Lindbergh biography made the cut. I’ve always been interested in Charles Lindbergh - his infamous flight, the tragic kidnapping of his baby, he’s a fascinating figure. I immediately borrowed the audiobook from the public library and I'm so glad I did.

My interest in Charles Lindbergh peaked years ago when my son was in fifth grade. Every year, the fifth graders put on a living history museum where each student dresses up as a historical figure and presents information to visitors as if they were that person. I can’t remember why my son chose to represent Charles Lindbergh but I’m guessing it was my suggestion. I was excited to help him prepare. We had fun gathering the pieces of his costume to make sure he looked the part. We spent hours researching, reading, and talking about Charles Lindbergh (be still, my librarian’s heart). We watched the 1957 movie, Spirit of St. Louis, starring Jimmy Stewart and we visited the Lindbergh exhibit at the St. Louis History Museum. That was a cool experience.

We spent a long time poring over the replica of the Spirit of St. Louis - we were particularly interested in the fact that the covering of the plane was canvas, not metal (did you know that?) and that his pilot’s chair was a lightweight piece of wicker furniture.

Jake poses with the replica of the Spirit of St. Louis at the St. Louis History Museum in January of 2011
My son with the Spirit of St. Louis

We were interested in all of the pictures, newspaper clippings, gifts, and awards. Our interest was strictly about the trans-Atlantic flight, so when we came to the case displaying the Service Cross of the German Eagle with Star (the highest decoration the Reich could bestow on a foreigner) Lindbergh was awarded by order of Hitler, himself, it was

a . . . shock? We quickly moved on, I glossed over “the Nazi stuff” with Jake, and we continued to focus on the materials pertaining to the flight. Nazi sympathizer definitely wasn’t something Jake was going to highlight during his performance in the living history museum. Bad parenting? Maybe. Lost opportunity for both of us to learn? Definitely. I’ve made amends since then. It was interesting going back through photos of our museum visit in 2011. I took tons of pictures but none of that Nazi medal. Denial much, Grieshaber?

Anyway, on to the book. It is excellent and the audiobook was well-narrated and engaging. It begins with a prologue that describes a political rally. If you didn’t know you were reading a book about Charles Lindbergh, you could swear you were reading an anecdote about a 2020 political rally. The speaker warns attendees against the biased and inaccurate newspapers and claims the media cannot be trusted. He warns them against foreigners who threaten the nation. He stresses the importance of preserving the American way of life. The Prologue ends with the crowd shouting Lindbergh’s name and the tone for the book is set. This isn’t going to be a book about Lindbergh the hero. It’s a book about Lindbergh the flawed human being and it is perfect.

My Lindbergh knowledge before reading this book was 1) trans-Atlantic flight, 2) baby kidnapping, 3) Nazi sympathizer, 4) interest in environmental and animal conservation later in life. Fleming covers these major headlines (and much, much more) but, more importantly, she delves into miscellaneous facts that explain why he may have made the decisions he did. For instance, his parents didn’t make him go to school consistently. He was naturally curious and loved to learn but he had no appreciation for formal education. Could his academically untrained mind be the reason for his staunch belief in eugenics and his disdain for nonwhites? Could it be the reason he succumbed wholeheartedly Nazi propaganda during his visits to Germany? The fervor over his trans-Atlantic flight by the media and the public (both before and after his flight) forever tainted his feelings about the press and his attitude towards being a public figure. Lindbergh was the first true American celebrity and he hated it. His quest for knowledge on his own terms and his relationship with the public definitely colored his life. Of everything I learned during this read/listen, the most shocking to me was that Lindbergh had MULTIPLE secret families that weren’t revealed until 2005!!! I won’t spoil the story here because it’s too good not to read on your own. The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh is the perfect title to this extremely well-done biography; it aligns with the way Fleming presents her information and cleverly nods to the classic work on Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Jagaur readers, at the date of this post, we do not yet own this book. If you're interested in the eBook or audiobook, please let one of your lit librarians know because we will be happy to order it for our Sora catalog. In the meantime, you can access it from the public library here.

A final note: aside from being fascinated by Lindbergh, another reason I chose to read (listen) to this book is because of the author. Candace Fleming wrote one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books - The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Like The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, Fleming includes tons of well-researched information into a small number of pages and puts it into an incredibly readable and story-like format. I highly recommend it! Please click on the book's image below to read my review on Goodreads.


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