Tuesday, July 28, 2015

East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart, by Susan Butler (author), Anna Fields (narrator)

Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 9780786113255, May 1998 (original publication October 1997)

In the late twenties and the 1930s, Amelia Earhart was one of America's heroes--America's heroine, as Butler reminds us was the terminology at the time, when gendered terms were still regarded as the norm rather than a bit weird. What's left to us now is an image of Earhart just out of the cockpit, or about to step into it, and the memory of her disappearance on her around-the-world flight.

But Earhart was much, much more than one image and one heartbreaking last flight. She was far more even than "just" a daredevil pilot in the years when aviation was establishing itself and just beginning to be commercially viable.

Butler digs into Earhart's background, her family background as well as her challenges and achievements before that last, iconic, and tragically ended round-the-world flight.

From her early life sent to live the winter months with her lonely grandmother in Atchison, Kansas, to the increasingly strained years with her parents and sister as her father drank and her parents' marriage deteriorated, she was the bright, adventurous light. She was also often the practical and responsible anchor in the strained family home, sacrificing many of her own opportunities to take care of her mother and sister. Yet along with pursuing a higher education despite the financial constraints, she also began flying early. Her parents had reconciled and her father moved them out to California, and Amelia Earhart discovered flying.

What surprised me is that, after a number of bumps and challenges along the way, the career she established herself in was social work, and the city she did it in was Boston. Who  saw that coming? I didn't! How she got from Miss Earhart of the Boston settlement house Dennison House, to Amelia Earhart, first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane, makes a fascinating story. From there, we embark on her other adventures, and on the equally public writing, public relations, and teaching that, for her, for the flyer who said she still considered herself a social worker, were an integral part of what she was doing.

The real revelation, for me, is how involved she was in the early development of commercial aviation.

Of course, we all know the ending, the flight from which she did not make it home. Even there, though, I learned quite a bit.


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