by A. Scott Berg
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Published: September 1998
– Pulitzer Prize for Biography –
“Lindbergh” is A. Scott Berg’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of one of America’s most famous aviators. Berg is also the author of best-selling biographies of Woodrow Wilson, Max Perkins, Samuel Goldwyn and a somewhat controversial biography/memoir of Katharine Hepburn. Berg is currently working on a biography of Thurgood Marshall.
In nearly every way, Charles Lindbergh’s life seems tailor-made for a riveting biography. Fortunately, A. Scott Berg is up to the challenge of memorializing the mesmerizing – and occasionally maddening – circumstances of Lindbergh’s seven decades as an aviator, scientist, victim, tone-deaf isolationist, cold-hearted companion and relentless wanderer.
Berg was the first biographer granted access to thousands of boxes of personal papers held by the Lindbergh family, and his efforts to research and write this book spanned nearly a decade. But this biography is less notable for its fresh revelations and new insights than for an incredibly accessible, free-flowing and richly-descriptive narrative which sweeps the reader through Lindbergh’s life at a nearly perfect pace.
The biography is generally admiring of Lindbergh – a man hazily remembered by most Americans as an unimpeachable, heroic figure – but the book is by no means hagiographic. Lindbergh’s lamentable tendencies as a husband and father, his anti-Semitic views and his pathological inflexibility are fully displayed. Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Charles’s widow) also provided access to sixty years of her diaries, so Berg is able to document both the highlights and the challenges in their relationship with impressive acuity.
There are countless wonderful moments in this biography, but some of the most captivating include a robust review of Lindbergh’s preparation for his non-stop flight from the New York to Paris, an excellent chapter which places the reader in the cockpit during Lindbergh’s famous journey and a very good rendering of the “Lindbergh baby” kidnapping incident as well as the ensuing criminal investigation and trial.
But some readers will find the book too melodramatic at times – almost as though Berg’s primary objective is to ensure his audience is never tempted to put the book down. In addition, the last decades of Lindbergh’s life feel comparatively rushed and too matter-of-fact. Although the reader witnesses a frenzy of late-life activity, these chapters seems more a mechanical review of Lindbergh’s travel itinerary than analysis of his life.
But the biography’s most conspicuous shortcoming is its failure to uncover Lindbergh’s affairs with three German mistresses (two of them sisters) and the seven children who resulted. The relationships began in the late 1950s and were not publicly revealed until a few years after the publication of Berg’s biography. DNA testing – and more than one-hundred letters – have verified the claims. Most of Lindbergh’s “secret” children have declined to speak out but in 2005 three of them wrote a book regarding their situation (“The Double Life of Charles A. Lindbergh“) which, sadly, seems to only be available auf Deutsch.
Overall, A. Scott Berg’s “Lindbergh” is a wonderfully readable, prize-winning biography of the life of Charles A. Lindbergh. But because it is missing an important extracurricular component of his later life, its status as the “definitive” Lindbergh biography is tenuous. Until a book is published which combines good writing with an even more complete account of Lindbergh’s personal life, however, Berg’s biography is a clear winner.
Overall rating: 4 stars