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16 March 2020 THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH by Candace Fleming, Random House/Schwartz & Wade, February 2020, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-525-64654-9


“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason.”

-- dead, anti-Semitic, children’s author, Roald Dahl (1983)


“Well they say time loves a hero

But only time will tell

If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven

If he ain’t, he was sent here from hell”

-- Little Feat (1977)


“Into the world rode Charles Lindbergh.

He did not fit in.

Shy and clean-shaven, he was remarkably wholesome. He didn’t drink or smoke. He didn’t touch caffeine, not even Coca-Cola, and he cared nothing for fashionable clothes. He’d never learned to dance or been on a date.

He also lived with his mother.

Incredibly, Evangeline had followed her son to college. Renting a two-bedroom apartment close to campus, she went about keeping house for the eighteen-year-old freshman. Charles didn’t mind; being with his mother was better than living with strangers in a dorm.

Charles steered clear of most people. He found the other students childish and their activities pointless. It wasn’t long before his classmates left him as alone as he seemed to want to be. They judged him different and odd, a boy who ‘went home every night to have dinner with his mother.’

Things were no better in the classroom. Unable to concentrate, he daydreamed and doodled and took long hikes beside the lake instead of completing assignments. Despite his mother’s help (she wrote his papers), his grades were poor. ‘Why should one spend hours of life on formulae, semi-colons, and our crazy English spelling?’ he asks himself. ‘I don’t believe God made man to fiddle with pencil marks on a paper. He gave him earth and air to feel. And now even wings to fly…’”


Charles Lindbergh, who grew up the son of a midwest Congressman, was a doer, not a thinker.  He was driving cars at age 10, before most Americans had even ridden in one. He had a wealth of practical experiences in the workshop alongside a beloved inventor-scientist grandfather.  He learned to farm and to selectively breed livestock.


But when he went to college, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he soon flunked out, despite his mother’s generous assistance. 


THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH is Candace Fleming’s best book to date. Tremendous research into this complex and controversial subject has been artfully turned into an emotionally wrenching story that’s exceptionally well told. It’s an engaging tale with many twists, turns, triumphs, and tragedies.


It was an early wave in the age of aviation, and Charles Lindbergh rode it. After learning to fly, he barnstormed around the Midwest before excelling in an advanced, year-long flying program in the army reserve. Then, combining his aptitude for invention with his ability to fly, he co-designed the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane in which he flew nonstop from New York to Paris. As the first person to accomplish this feat, Lindbergh instantly became one of the best known and most celebrated men in America. 


But Charles Lindbergh was a doer, not a thinker.


“Major Smith marveled at Charles’s knowledge of mechanics, while Kay admired his vitality and confidence. Neither, however, was impressed by his knowledge of history or government. He was, admitted Kay, ‘a naïve political thinker.’ And when it came to understanding post-World War I Europe, his mind was ‘an empty void.’”


Charles Lindbergh was one of the most popular and influential men in the world in the 1930s. Therefore, it was a propaganda coup for Adolf Hitler when he hosted Lindbergh at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Lindbergh became enamored of the Führer and the way he was running Germany. 


The author provides a meticulously-researched indictment of Lindbergh, who was duped by the Germans, and nearly moved to Berlin to be part of Hitler’s Germany. Lindbergh’s public speeches urging isolationism by the U.S., and his claim that American Jews were dangerous to our country’s interests ran counter to FDR’s need to gather support for bolstering our European allies in the war against Hitler’s aggression. Lindbergh’s widely-reported pro-Germany, anti-Semitic statements found some traction at home as Hitler moved forward on slaughtering millions of European Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and others. 


“There’s a well-worn tradition in most societies of marginalizing ‘the Other.’ Xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, starts as rhetoric, very quickly migrates to discrimination, and can result in violence. It is extremely important that parts of our society that aren’t themselves being targeted by anti-Semitism see this as a warning when antisemitic discrimination or violent acts happen, it is a threat to liberal society.”

-- Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in “Anti-Semitism Today,” a presentation of the United States Holicaust Memorial Museum


In the 21st century, anti-Semitism continues to show its ugliness. Given his role in supporting Nazi Germany, and perpetuating these lies, Charles Lindbergh is no hero of mine.


Young people need to learn about the complexity of history, and that things aren’t always black and white: a hero in one respect can be a villain in another. It will be eye-opening for them to learn about this famous and infamous American who completed a historically remarkable flight and followed it up with an oft-reprehensible life. 


Nonfiction for young people doesn’t get any better than this. A must read for ages 10 and up.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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