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Dirigible Dreams

The Age of the Airship

By C. Michael Hiam

The rise and fall of the adventurous dirigible age

Here is the story of airships—manmade flying machines without wings—from their earliest beginnings to the modern era of blimps. In postcards and advertisements, the sleek, silver, cigar-shaped airships, or dirigibles, were the embodiment of futuristic visions of air travel. They immediately captivated the imaginations of people worldwide, but in less than fifty years dirigible became a byword for doomed futurism, an Icarian figure of industrial hubris. Dirigible Dreams looks back on this bygone era, when the future of exploration, commercial travel, and warfare largely involved the prospect of wingless flight. In Dirigible Dreams, C. Michael Hiam celebrates the legendary figures of this promising technology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, the doomed polar explorers S. A. Andrée and Walter Wellman, and the great Prussian inventor and promoter Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, among other pivotal figures—and recounts fascinating stories of exploration, transatlantic journeys, and floating armadas that rained death during World War I. While there were triumphs, such as the polar flight of the Norge, most of these tales are of disaster and woe, culminating in perhaps the most famous disaster of all time, the crash of the Hindenburg.

This story of daring men and their flying machines, dreamers and adventurers who pushed modern technology to—and often beyond—its limitations, is an informative and exciting mix of history, technology, awe-inspiring exploits, and warfare that will captivate readers with its depiction of a lost golden age of air travel. Readable and authoritative, enlivened by colorful characters and nail-biting drama, Dirigible Dreams will appeal to a new generation of general readers and scholars interested in the origins of modern aviation.

Credit: Bachrach

C. Michael Hiam, Ph.D., is the author of A Monument to Deceit: Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars and Eddie Shore and That Old-Time Hockey. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Reviews

A rave in the Wall Street Journal

A concise but comprehensive history of the airship and its evolution. With style and some flair, Mr. Hiam introduces a cast of dogged visionaries … A diligent researcher, Mr. Hiam quotes judiciously and generally has an eye for a good story and the detail that brings it to life. Dirigible Dreams is a work of solid reportage, illustrated with enchanting photographs of the monster crafts. I admire the author’s brevity; the book could have been twice as long, and it would have been half as good. Mr. Hiam remains charmingly in thrall to the romance of the skies. “Regrettably,” he writes, “the dirigible age came and went far too quickly.” A believer to the last, he reckons that, “were it not for Hitler’s rise to power,” which shifted global attention to the war effort, “the airship would yet have had a place in global transportation.” It is hard, on the strength of these entertaining pages, not to agree with Mr. Hiam’s claim that “the brief epoch of the airship . . . was charged with incredible potential, it consumed nations and imaginations, and for an exciting period in aviation history it represented the future of human flight.” —Sara Wheeler, The Wall Street Journal, Friday, October 17, 2014

The Boston Globe loves it too!

Read the in-depth article about Dirigible Dreams.