Review: The Big Jump

Richard Bak’s The Big Jump does an excellent job telling much of the story of the creation and pursuit of the prize that Lindbergh was to win for the first solo crossing of the Atlantic from New York to Paris.  There’s a lot of specificity in naming the goal of the Orteig Prize, and one of the fascinating parts of this particular chunk of history is how that specific feat captured so much of the world’s attention.  It is an odd little niche of history and well worth the treatment Bak gives it.

You cannot tell this story without talking about Lindbergh, of course, but Bak admirably brings to life both the other daredevils seeking the prize and the man who established it.  Raymond Orteig found the challenge that would ignite not only the imaginations of the flyers who would try for it, but also of the public who would breathlessly watch it.  Bak is insightful in pointing this out.

Orteig is an interesting character, and in many other histories would be one of the most interesting players.  1920’s aviation had a bumper corp of remarkable folks in play, though, and Bak paints them all with some verve.  One-legged French aces, sparky engineers, and a self-promoter who sneaks himself onto a trans-oceanic attempt to duck out on his wife are only a few of the characters who drift on and off the stage illuminated by the prize.

There are certainly some things left out, and in many ways The Big Jump is like the Ortieg prize itself.  It generates interest in a great achievement, but there is more to do fully realize its promise.  Lighting that fire is an fine achievement.

Strongly Recommended.

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