“O’Brien’s prose reverberates with fiery crashes, then stings with the tragedy of lives lost in the cockpit and sometimes, equally heartbreaking, on the ground.” —New York Times Book Review
One of Time Magazine’s Best Books of the Summer
The untold story of five women who fought to compete against men in the high-stakes national air races of the 1920s and 1930s — and won
In 1928, less than a dozen American women had a government-issued pilot’s license, making the few women who flew planes true radicals. Fly Girls tells that story, their story—the story of women fighting for the right to fly airplanes, winning the right to race them, and then beating the men in one of the most dangerous air races of them all. It was, for the female pilots, a stunning upset and one that proved what the women had known all along: They were just as good as the male pilots, maybe better. They belonged.
Between the world wars, no sport was more popular, or more dangerous, than airplane racing. Thousands of fans flocked to multi‑day events, and cities vied with one another to host them. The pilots themselves were hailed as dashing heroes who cheerfully stared death in the face. Well, the men were hailed. Female pilots were more often ridiculed than praised for what the press portrayed as silly efforts to horn in on a manly, and deadly, pursuit. Fly Girls recounts how a cadre of women banded together to break the original glass ceiling: the entrenched prejudice that conspired to keep them out of the sky.
O’Brien weaves together the stories of five remarkable women: Florence Klingensmith, a high‑school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blue‑blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita. Together, they fought for the chance to race against the men — and in 1936 one of them would triumph in the toughest race of all.
Like Hidden Figures and Girls of Atomic City, Fly Girls celebrates a little-known slice of history in which tenacious, trail-blazing women braved all obstacles to achieve greatness
Keith O’Brien on CBS This Morning and talks about his book
C-Span Book Tour Keith O’Brien and The Fly Girls
Keith O’Brien on New Hampshire Public Radio
For a deeper biography of the five, link away.
Florence Gunderson Klingensmith
Bio Keith O’Brien is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist. The New York Times Book Review has hailed O’Brien for his “keen reportorial eye” and “lyrical” writing style. He has written two books, been a finalist for the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting, and contributed to National Public Radio for more than a decade. O’Brien’s radio stories have appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition, as well as Marketplace, Here & Now, Only a Game, and This American Life. He has also written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico, Slate, Esquire.com, and the Oxford American, among others.
He is a former staff writer for both the Boston Globe and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As a newspaper reporter, he won multiple awards, including the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. He was born in Cincinnati and graduated from Northwestern University. O’Brien learned to parallel park in Chicago and considers parallel parking to be his one and only super power, although he is good at other things, including: making waffles for his kids, singing 1980s television theme songs by heart, and cutting his stories in half when required by editors. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children.
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