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Prisons and Patriots
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West
Playing for Keeps
Fighting the Cold War
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Education for Thinking
Separate Games
Daddy's Money
Horizons of Cosmology
Where Night Is Day

Sky as FrontierSky as Frontier

Adventure, Aviation, and Empire

David T. Courtwright

Narrated by Patrick Ross

Available from Audible

Book published by Texas A&M University Press

The airplane changed the course of history. Above all, it changed the history of the United States. When the Wright brothers invented their flying machine, Americans lived in a nation of two dimensions, circumscribed by lines drawn on a conventional map. A century later, their nation existed—in fact, reigned—in three dimensions. Two million Americans slipped the surly bonds of earth daily, carried aloft by aircraft operating in every part of the world.

The airplane turned the sky into a new domain of human activity, a fast-developing frontier. The first to brave that frontier were adventurous young men. Then came the rich and the hurried. Then just about everybody else. Until now, no one has told the story of aviation as one of frontier expansion. David Courtwright does so in Sky as Frontier. He has written an ambitious history of American aviation ranging from the patent fight between the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss through the tragedy of 9/11 and the Iraq War. Along the way, Courtwright stops to consider dogfighting, barnstorming, the first air mail pilots, the development of airlines, air power during World War II, flight’s impact on the environment, the troubled space frontier, and how the male-dominated aviation enterprise was domesticated and democratized.

Aviation’s frontier stage lasted a scant three decades, then vanished as flying became a settled experience. Sky as Frontier recreates that pioneer world and shows how commercial and military imperatives destroyed it by routinizing flight. At bottom, it is the story of a fateful tradeoff. Rationalization killed the adventure in flying but made possible rapid aerial expansion. With it came commercial growth and global military reach. In no other country did social life, business, and military operations become so intertwined with aerospace advances, or have such large consequences for national power and prestige.

David T. Courtwright writes about U.S. and world history. His recent books include Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City and the prize-winning Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. He teaches at the University of North Florida.


Sky as Frontier mixes scholarship with enough vivid writing and compelling anecdotes to appeal to a general audience.”

Florida Times-Union

“Courtwright adopts an innovative approach in analyzing the course of U.S. aerospace history from 1908 to 2001.... provides a useful paradigm for understanding the broader implications of America’s aerospace century.”


Sky as Frontier offers a fresh and interesting interpretation of the role of aviation in American culture, solidly rooted in both original and secondary sources...The book offers much food for thought, not only for historians of flight but also for students of broader issues in American History.”

The Journal of American History

“…a wonderful source of aeronautical ideas and information. It is also an excellent and entertaining read. Courtwright has an enviable eye for detail and irony…impeccably and richly sounded.”

The Journal of Transport History

“…an engaging and smart book that will appeal to many.”

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Overall then, this is a work of remarkable synthesis and insight, which are all the more welcome coming from a nonspecialist in the history of aviation…a smooth and well-written story.”

Technology and Culture

“... a blockbuster ... a potential best seller. It is written with a racey style and there is scarcely a page without some clever anecdote which adds spice to the reader’s interest. [Courtwright’s] research has been remarkably wide-ranging in sources one might never have thought of consulting. As a result he has produced a very fresh tale even for those of us widely read in the field.... an enthusiastic thumbs up...”

—I. B. Holley, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Duke University

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks