Women Aviators: From Amelia Earhart to Sally Ride

Making History in Air and Space

by Bernard Marck

“The fight to fly can, first and foremost, be compared to a fight against prejudices that held so fast, certain mustachioed imbeciles, in an attempt to chase women from the airfields and send them back to their domestic tasks, went so far as to sabotage their airplanes.”

It is either coincidence or clever planning that this book came out just about the time the movie Amelia (as in Earhart) was released. One can only wish that movie or book will fan the flames of interest in this deserving subject! Published simultaneously in its native French (Elles ont conquis le ciel), German (Frauen Erobern Die Lüfte)—both rather more colorful titles!—and English, the book presents 100 “aviators in lace” in text and especially in most excellent photos.

Author Marck is no stranger to the subject, having penned in 2005 the epic 1132-page Dictionnaire universel de l’aviation (Tallandier Editions, 2005. ISBN-13: 978-2847340600) that looked at the lives of 3500 aviators—male and female—of distinction. For that book alone he had tunneled through 20,000 public and private sources. No wonder that the fruits of that labor should be amortized in related books. He has a stack of aviation-themed publications to his name, among them several biographies, and was also a correspondent for the world’s oldest (1909) continuously published aerospace news weekly Flight International.

There is no shortage of books about women in aviation, from the gushing/fawning to the stilted politically correct and everything in between. Early on Marck says about his book, “I have written it with a great deal of affection, no small dose of humor, and certainly without any preconceived opinions.” And every page bears that out. This is an intelligent, sensitive treatment that focuses on the human dimension of the flyers’ passions, triumphs, and tragedies. It is an homage, a tribute, and, well, a celebration. From balloons to Concorde to the Space Shuttle, Marck weaves a tapestry of lives marked by, more than anything, tenacity. Or, more edgy, ambition.

The story is presented chronologically but not in a textbook-like manner bristling with facts and numbers but in the form of basic historical narrative about each aviatrix accompanied by vignettes, quotes, and extensive photo captions. What is said and how it is said are most engaging, and that Marck’s “voice” is preserved, at least in the English version (we haven’t seen the German), is in no small measure due to the translator’s skill. Considering that France played a pioneering role in so many areas of transportation—hot air balloons took to the air here as far back as the 1780s—it should be no surprise that a good number of the protagonists in this book are French. (America’s first female licensed pilot is also included. That was Harriet Quimby [b. 1875] and the year was 1911. She died in 1912. Guess how?).

All the above would make for a really nice, well-rounded book. Add to that the multitude of truly well chosen photos and this book rises above others. Add to that a superb design—choice of typefaces, design elements, page layout, the colors for the binding and endpapers—and you have a thing of beauty. We don’t often have occasion to say it, but this is a case of the sum being greater than the parts. Even the Index, divided into aircraft names and proper names, and, be still my heart, with cross-references, is a cut above. This book is simply a pleasure to hold and behold.

All the illustrations are b/w and at over 12” tall the full-page photos (a few even go across the spread) show lots and lots of detail. Some of that will escape the casual reader since the focus of the captions—and the book—is less on the technical and more on the personal. Photo reproduction is remarkably good, considering the age and condition of the source material.

Whether your interests lie in aviation, photography, social history, gender issues—or book design—a splendid book and good read in every regard!

Copyright 2011, Sabu Advani (speedreaders.info).

Women Aviators:
From Amelia Earhart to Sally Ride, Making History in Air and Space
by Bernard Marck
Flammarion (October 20, 2009) [In US: Rizzoli]
240 pages, hardcover
List Price: $45/£27.50
ISBN-13: 978-2080301086

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