When Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, she was at the height of her fame. Fascination with Earhart remains just as strong today, as her mysterious disappearance continues to inspire speculation. In this nuanced and often surprising biography, acclaimed aviation historian Kathleen C. Winters moves beyond the caricature of the spunky, precocious pilot to offer a more complex portrait. Drawing on a wealth of contemporary accounts, airline records, and other original research, this book reveals a flawed heroine who was frequently reckless and lacked basic navigation skills, but who was also a canny manipulator of mass media. Winters details how Earhart and her husband, publisher George Putnam, worked to establish her as an international icon, even as other spectacular pilots went unnoticed. Sympathetic yet unsentimental, this biography helps us to see Amelia Earhart with fresh eyes.
Amelia Earhart was not the best female pilot of her time, claims Winters: "She was not a natural stick,' in pilots' parlance, and struggled during her flight training." But she was, of course, the most widely known. In this insightful biography, Winters (Anne Morrow Lindbergh: First Lady of the Air) looks at Earhart's achievements and, perhaps more significantly, the influence of her husband, George Palmer Putnam, who promoted her tirelessly and "catapulted her to fame" by helping with fundraising and setting up book deals and speaking engagements. The couple would eventually rub elbows with "celebrities, artists, adventurers, and socialites," like Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. The author traces Earhart's interest in aviation to "the many railroad trips she took with her father, and a tendency to experiment with all types of sports and games." Winters describes her gradual "transformation from genteel woman to airfield hanger-on, cropping her long hair and wearing breeches, boots, and an oil-stained leather jacket." She avoids romanticizing Earhart and points out her personal short-comings, such as an occasional reluctance to prepare properly for excursions. But Winters still believes equipment failure was just as responsible for Earhart's ill-fated final flight in 1937 as the pilot's insufficiencies. In so doing, she paints a fair picture of the famous woman aviator that so successfully captured the American imagination. Photos.