Flight to the Top of the World: The Adventures of Walter Wellman

Wellman cover smallPublished by University of Nebraska Press

“Flight to the Top of the World is a riveting account of turn-of-the-century America and the vibrant personalities that fueled its discoveries.” —Laura Leavitt, Foreword Reviews (Read full review)

In his day Walter Wellman (1858–1934) was one of America’s most famous men. To his contemporaries, he seemed like a character from a Jules Verne novel. He led five expeditions in search of the North Pole, two by dogsled and three by dirigible airship, and in 1910 made the first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air—which the self-styled expert on aerial warfare saw as a mission of world peace. He endured hardships, cheated death on more than one occasion, and surrounded himself with a team of assistants as eccentric and audacious as he was.

In addition to his daring adventures, Wellman became a nationally known political reporter and unofficial spokesman for the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations. He was not the first newspaper-sponsored adventurer, but more than any of his predecessors he turned exploration into a real-time media event, and his reputation both flourished and suffered because of it. Wellman lived during a time of rapid social and technological change, when explorers were racing to fill in the last remaining blank spots on the map and when aviation promised to fulfill humanity’s greatest hopes and darkest fears. Flight to the Top of the World is a window into Wellman’s time and illuminates many of its dreams and contradictions.

“[David Bristow] does an admirable job of setting [Walter] Wellman’s story in the broader context of both American history and the history of polar exploration. . . . [This is] an important addition not only to Wellman’s biography, but to the history and impact of American journalism in the early years of the twentieth century.”

Tom Crouch, Senior Curator, Aeronautics Division, National Air & Space Museum, and author of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (Norton) and Lighter-Than-Air: An Illustrated History of Balloons and Airships (Johns Hopkins)