Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum: An Autobiography


With a forward by astronaut John Glenn, and five chapters written by the curators and scientists of the actual museum, this book is described by the authors as an autobiography of the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum itself.

There are more than 700 photographs of aircraft and artefacts – many of them rare or unique – as well as numerous, sumptuous illustrations. This is a very, very impressive book indeed.

The presentation, detail, and obvious historical significance of the information in this book is almost overwhelming, and the famous names, vehicles and artefacts just keep coming and coming throughout the book.

Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum: An Autobiography

The ‘Autobiography’ is divided into chapters and ‘interchapter’s which delve into behind the scenes stories and controversies. The chapters and interchapters are:

  1. Flight and the Smithsonian
    • Capable of Flight? The Wright-Smithsonian Controversy
  2. Building a Collection
    • Robbert Goddard and the Smithsonian
  3. The Long Road to a New Museum
    • The NASA-NASM Partnership
  4. The World’s Most Popular Museum
    • The Smithsonian and the Enola Gay
  5. The National Air and Space Museum Spreads its Wings

Following these chapters is an ‘Afterword’ titled ‘The Future of the National Air and Space Museum’

Richly detailed

Because the history of aviation, and the background of the museum, are both so rich and information-dense, the content is part historical and part reference. As such you can’t expect it to grip you like a harrowing account of a downed Thunderchief pilot in Vietnam. It is not that sort of book. But it does flow well and is very readable nevertheless.

What the book does do exceptionally well is to inspire and educate you. The background stories, small details and unusual tidbits add enormously to the bare bones of the historical record, bringing it to life.


And the Museum has not shied away from two of their most significant controversies, being the denial of the Wright brothers achievements for many years, and more recently the way that the Enola Gay exhibition had been originally planned, leading to curators being described as “revisionist social scientists”.

But the overall message of the Museum is one that honours the pioneers and their dedication, innovation and achievements. It inspires us to look to the stars and beyond. Highly recommended for every aviation enthusiast.

The Book

This book is shown below, along with by a number of similar books or products you might like. If you appreciate my efforts here at The Air Show, please consider using these links for your purchase. It won’t cost you a cent more than buying direct at Amazon. Thanks!

More Reading

You should read this review in conjunction with an article I wrote about the Museum, which you can read here. When you’ve done that, you might want to visit the Museum website here.

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Steve is the editor-at-large and publisher of The Air Show. He is responsible for many of our articles, and our podcasts, videos, social media feeds and newsletter. He welcomes comments and contributions from aviators and enthusiasts alike.


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