East to the Dawn by Susan Butler

October 30, 2009

east to the dawn Book Summary: East to the Dawn by Susan Butler is a comprehensive biography of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an aircraft. As with most biographies, this book is laid out in chronological order, giving readers a detailed account of Amelia’s life from her earliest childhood in Kansas to her days as a social worker in Boston, and finally, to her rise to prominence in the field of aviation.

Most people know a little bit about Earhart, such as the fact that she flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean at a time when it was extremely dangerous to do so, and that she mysteriously disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. But Butler’s book serves to fill in all the blanks between these events, giving reader’s an inside look at what drove Amelia and what kinds of problems she had to overcome in order to pursue her dreams.

Butler’s account of Amelia’s life is straightforward and mostly interesting. It’s clear that the author viewed Amelia in a positive light, and because of that, this book can hardly be called a balanced portrait. Nevertheless, it serves as a nice introduction to the aviatrix’s life.

Liked:

  • I loved all the details that Butler presented. There was a lot I didn’t know about Earhart’s life prior to picking this book up, but now I feel as though I’m very familiar with what Amelia went through — at least outwardly.
  • I usually don’t enjoy reading about the family members of the biographical subject, but this was a bit different. It was interesting to see how Amelia abhorred poverty because of her family problems and how her father’s drinking took such a terrible toll on everyone involved.
  • I had no idea that Amelia was such a sexually liberated woman! This is obviously not something that makes it into schoolbooks, so it was kind of a shock to hear that she was carrying on with Gene Vidal while married to George Putnam, whom she took up with while he was still married to his first wife. Learning all this certainly changes my images of Earhart as the all-American girl next door!
  • Nor did I have any idea that Amelia signed so many endorsement deals during her lifetime. Not only for airplanes and parts, as you might expect, but also for clothing, insurance, beauty products like acne treatment, you name it. She was a major spokeswoman in her day.
  • The accounts of Amelia’s not-so-famous flights were just as interesting to me as the famous ones. From what I gather, it seems that Amelia wasn’t even the most skilled female pilot of her time, which is what I thought she was before reading this book. She seems to have been more lucky than anything else — especially regarding the Friendship flight.

Disliked:

  • I wish Butler had discussed Amelia’s disappearance more. The author just kind of glossed over the after-effects, but by that time, I really wanted to know what the general population thought of her disappearance. What was the feeling on the street? Butler told of Putnam’s reaction, and what the U.S. military did to find Amelia, but didn’t mention general reactions from around the country.
  • As I wrote above, this book didn’t provide a very balanced account of Amelia’s life. It was mostly positive, but I’m sure just from reading about some of the things she did that Amelia must have pissed off a few people along the way. It would have been nice to get an account of what those folks really thought of Amelia.

Rating:
East to the Dawn by Susan Butler is a very serviceable account of Amelia Earhart’s life. There is certainly a lot of information packed into the book, and Butler’s narrative, while not particularly noteworthy or exciting, gets the job done. I came away from this tome feeling that I know a lot more about Earhart than I did before, which is precisely what a biography should accomplish. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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