The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin – Book Review

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House

Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic. Charles Lindbergh associated at one point with Nazi Germany. The Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. Charles, Charles, the Lindberghs. It is Charles who is in the history books, time and time again. His wife, Anne, is often little more than a footnote, and then only in the discussion of the kidnapping, but Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a fascinating woman in her own right.  Daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, she is a shy and literary-minded college senior when she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Over the next few years, Anne and Charles embark on whirlwind life together, with Anne becoming the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. Despite her significant accomplishments, Anne remains squarely in her husband’s shadow.

More than just a fictional biography, The Aviator’s Wife is the story of a woman finding herself and finding her voice. Benjamin fully subsumes the reader in Anne’s psyche. Anne’s head isn’t always a comfortable place to be in the early and middle years of her marriage to Charles, as she struggles to keep her own identity as she orbits her insanely famous husband. Still, Anne was a real woman, and Benjamin makes her live once again between the covers of The Aviator’s Wife. Despite her unique problems as a woman in the spotlight, her general struggles with balancing children, husband, and self will be familiar to many women.

There can be downsides to being so invested in a character’s life, of course. The pages leading up to the kidnapping of Charles and Anne’s first child were so suspenseful and heart-stopping as to be almost torturous, especially to a parent of small children. Still, the paralyzing fear aside, that passage made me realize just how much I had been brought into Anne’s world, how authentically human she was to me.

The Aviator’s Wife is a fascinating book about a fascinating woman. Highly recommended.

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10 comments to The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin – Book Review

  • This does sound good, I was just reading about this one on another blog this morning but you are the first review I have seen.

  • I’m glad you felt the way I did about this one! It’s a great book and Anne is a standout character.

  • Glad to see your review — so far I’ve heard lukewarm to negative things about it. I’m reviewing it in February and quite excited!

  • My co-worker is reading this right now and is always saying good things. That combined with your review make me really want to check it out

  • I’m also reading this for the book tour in February. After reading your review, I can’t wait to read it.

  • This book sounds really interesting. I remember learning about Charles Lindbergh and the kidnapping of their child in history class. I’m not sure the mommy in me can handle reading about the kidnapping, but I will definitely think about it!

  • Tam

    What a great review. This sounds like a wonderful book that I will be adding to my ever growing list.

  • I have this one my shelf and I’m really excited about it. Everyone is raving. I met the author at SIBA and she was really sweet, which makes it even more fun. :)

  • I have spent ten years studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh and give classes and presentations on her life and accomplishments. I would not spend 10 minutes trying to better understand and appreciate the woman depicted in “The Aviator’s Wife.”

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a pioneering aviator, and was given the prestigious Hubbard Medal by National Geographic for her work with Charles in their flights charting routes for Pan Am in the 1930s. She spent nearly six months and traveled 30,000 miles in a single-engine aircraft flying in a big circle around the Atlantic; this was after their similar trip to the Orient. She wrote two best-selling books about these trips, and with her own abilities and craft became a noted author. (As of today, after more than 100 years, the Hubbard Medal has only been given out for 22 events and/or people.)

    Mrs. Lindbergh published 13 books in her lifetime. Gift From the Sea, first published in 1955, is still in print. Over many years, she also wrote numerous articles for various magazines. Perhaps the most revealing book is the one that came out last spring, a book of letters and diaries spanning 1946 to 1986, Against Wind and Tide. Reeve Lindbergh and other family members spent four years going through 40 years of writing, some of it the most personal and revealing writing of Mrs. Lindbergh. It’s a treasure for all her admirers, and especially for someone who has spent years learning about her.

    Ms. Benjamin treats the Lindberghs with disrespect when she writes that Charles laughed and clapped when Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping of Charles, Jr. Charles was a different duck, for sure, but even that would be out of character. Ms. Benjamin described the Lindberghs and their employees through Anne’s thoughts when they were looking throughout the house for little Charlie the night of the kidnapping. She said, “. . . I had the strangest urge to laugh, for we resembled nothing more than characters in a Marx Brothers movie.” Again, in such a frantic time for such a sensitive and thoughtful person, I don’t think Mrs. Lindbergh would be anywhere near a laugh or even a smile, let alone a thought about the Marx Brothers.

    Ms. Benjamin treats some subjects in a laughable manner. She made it appear that the Lindberghs and Amelia Earhart had great disdain for each other; nothing could be further from the truth. If Ms. Benjamin had read the diaries and books of both Anne and Amelia, she would know that they admired and had great respect for each other. And why be flip and characterize it otherwise when the truth itself is so interesting. (There are literally dozens of inaccuracies in the book.)

    Ms. Benjamin was likewise sketchy and flip in occasionally dropping in the names of Robert Goddard and Alexis Carrel, people who were import to Charles and his story. She also mentions that Charles became the spokesman for America First and describes it as “ . . . that ragtag group of individuals. . . .” That “ragtag” group included Potter Stewart, Sargent Shriver and Gerald Ford; they were headed by former four-star General Robert Wood, then Chairman of the Board of Sears.

    But what about Rilke and Antoine de St. Exupery, people who were not only important to her but had a great influence on Anne? They were not mentioned. She loved poetry and would either memorize or read poetry for hours flying with Charles sitting in that back cockpit. This notion was not conveyed in the book either.

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a woman of substance — highly educated, incredibly literate and wonderfully expressive in her writing. In her author’s notes, Ms. Benjamin said that “the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories — or even diaries or letters.” Mrs. Lindbergh’s letters and diaries are all about her inner life and they are cohesive and well thought out. They are truly thoughtful in all ways about every aspect of her life. I would urge everyone to read the series of now six books of letters and diaries to even begin to understand this woman. I’d rather pursue the remarkable woman Mrs. Lindbergh was in order to learn and understand more about her compelling life than to spend even a minute with the one-dimensional aviator’s wife and the disparaged life portrayed in this book.

    (Much of the research and work I’ve been doing on Mrs. Lindbergh is discussed on my website, — and on the blog embedded it that (or found separately) — ).