Full review from The Aerospace Professional
Dr. Walsh has cast a net wide and deep to capture the subject of her monumental biography of the French aviator Hubert Latham, whose English grandfather had emigrated to Le Havre in 1829. Family archives, reminiscences, 100 contemporary photos, 100,000 words and an index containing the names of 250 famous and infamous people cited in the text have been deftly assembled into this well-researched chronicle of Latham's short life and a panorama of European society at the dawn of the 20th century.
Rich and independent, Latham moved easily through the salons (and boudoirs) of a hedonistic international high-society intent upon breaking the moral strictures of the past. He inherited from his father a passion for travel, oriental art, and big-game hunting. His expedition in 1906 to the Sudan and Abyssinia collecting specimens for the Paris Natural History Museum was extended to India, Ceylon and Indo-China, whence he returned in 1908 to join his cousin Robert Gastambide at the Antoinette company where Leon Levavasseur had already designed the first of the graceful and robust Antoinette monoplanes which Latham was later to demonstrate with skill and panache.
The Wright brothers' convincing demonstrations at Le Mans in August 1908 profoundly shocked French aviation and aroused huge public interest in this new form of locomotion, together with fears in England that aircraft would be used for military purposes by an increasingly truculent Germany. The wily, manipulative Lord Northcliffe played upon these fears to stimulate interest in his Daily Mail newspapers and in the £1,000 prize he offered for the first aircraft to cross the English Channel.
Latham's failure in July 1909 to win to this coveted prize aroused much sympathy and he was idolised by the crowds who flocked to the air shows at Reims, Berlin, Blackpool, Juvisy in 1909, at Heliopolis , Nice, St. Petersburg, Reims, Belmont N.Y. and Baltimore in 1910 and at San Francisco and Brooklands in 1911. Latham's exploits, records and crashes at these meetings are meticulously recorded.
The failure in October 1911 of Levavasseur's overweight new military design was fatal to the Antoinette Company where orders were no longer forthcoming. Latham left in December 1911 for French Equatorial Africa, ostensibly for another hunting expedition but possibly to report on the situation there. His aviation career was over.
Dr. Walsh manifests her investigative talents in a subtle analysis of the circumstances of Latham's death in Africa in June 1912 and of the controversial nature of the evidence produced and the verdict rendered by the French military and civil authorities.
This book clearly makes a major contribution to the early history of aviation but will also appeal to a much wider public as an interesting record of society at that time.