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James R. Hansen - Historical Biographies

Season four of the Lindberghs Podcast is made possible by:

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Podcast art. Image of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Listen to this episode here, or find The Lindberghs on any podcast player such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

About this Episode

Hi It's Erik. During the first year of the Covid 19 pandemic, The Lindbergh Foundation shut down our external programs and met regularly over the phone. My question at that time was what asset do we have that has the most value to bring to the world?

The answer kept coming back to us that our stories were the most important.

The stories that started with Anne and Charles Lindbergh about their work in the world, and how the ripples that emanated from their exploration, innovation and writing inspired countless people to do leading edge entrepreneurial work that continues to ripple outward. The Jaques Custeau’s, the Neil Armstrongs, the Bertrand Piccards and the Sylvia Earles of the world who were in turn influencing and inspiring others like Gordon Hempton to do positive work on the planet.

I started referring to the "Innovation Ecosystem” that my grandparents obviously cultivated in their lives that allowed them to have such a powerful influence on the 20th century. When our book committee interviewed author and historian James R. Hansen to author a book about this innovation ecosystem we were anticipating that the needed to include my Grandmother as an equal partner, and it should include the people my grandparents influenced and those who the Lindbergh Foundation supported over its 45 year tenure and how those people were continuing to change the world.

Hansen, the author of First Man, a book about Neil Armstrong, was our unanimous choice as the right person to write such a book not only because Neil Armstrong was a friend and had many similar characteristics as my Grandfather, but because Hansen himself reminded us of Charles Lindbergh. He was fact oriented and deeply principaled. He was also fun and interesting to talk to, perhaps as a result of his experience teaching at Auburn University.

His process of research and writing the prospectus for this book led to a conclusion that the best topic would be about my Grandparents relationship together. Life often gives us a place to consider our trajectory and pivot. James' conclusion was that the relationship between Charles and Anne gave us the perfect insight into these two people as we move toward the 100th anniversary of the New York to Paris flight.

This episode is a fascinating discussion about two people who are still changing the world, but are as magnificent and they are flawed. I couldn’t imagine a better time to focus on this relationship than this age of the polarization, cancel culture, and the ever changing questions and needs of people in relationships today.

I have been deeply moved by my conversations with James R. Hansen and hope you enjoy this interview with him.


Erik Lindbergh

Our Favorite Quotes from this Episode

I had thought that as a historian of flight with a long career, I thought I knew everything I might need to know about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, but it blew my head thinking through what I have learned doing my research.


It was me moving through Anne Morrow's diaries that led me to a better understanding of not only Anne, but of Charles and their relationship. I found a number of surprises there that I had not thought of before.


Reeve [Lindbergh] said that the real thing that needs to be looked at to understand [Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh] is their own marriage and their relationship. The only way you can really make the case of the innovation ecosystem is to show how this was at work and growing together through [Anne and Charle's] relationship.


The biographers job is to explain circumstances, attitudes, and decisions as best as I can so people will have a better understanding of what happened. I'm not looking to sensationalize anything, but the best, most thoughtful, and mature way to share the story.


It's tricky. You don't want a history or biography book to be determined simply by today's values. If you apply certain social ideas, or economic ideas, or political ideas, or sexual ideas from today and you use them to go back and judge [these people in history] they lived in a different age and time with different mores. The best you can do is to try to explain them within the context of their time. There are some readers who are never going to understand that well enough. They are going to be too judgemental, they are going to use today's definitions of things and decide whether or not they like someone else's behavior in the past based on what is appropriate today. I don't know what to say to that except please consider the context [and] consider the time. The biographer who is looking at context and is not apologizing for it or defend it, but are trying to explain it. You want readers to be open minded and more historically sensitive to the time, the period and geography and everything that impacts culture. But sometimes that's a lot to ask of readers. This is especially at play with someone like Charles Lindbergh.


You sometimes hear the criticism of the term Revisionist History. I more or less believe in the thought of defending revisionist history. The idea is when it's seen in its most negative light people are changing history to line up with some sets of values and attitudes from today. But the truth is historians are always revising. We are revising based on new material. For example if I had written a Lindbergh book 40 years ago and then I am going to write a Lindbergh biography today, to think that I'm not going to change my approach or findings is wrong because so much has been learned, there's new information, there's all of the writings of Anne published later in her life. It's not that you want to negate or cancel out, every generation has to come to terms with powerful issues in society and culture so that's part of it, but there is also new information. At what time will you say, "Now we've got it, there's nothing more." Who knows, there could be lost diaries or more information so you have to change it.


When you're thinking of the 100th Anniversary, there needs to be look back at all of this; all of the things that have been written and perceived about them and all of it has to be taken into account. For 2027 there needs to be a comprehensive reexamination of the whole Lindbergh legacy. It's not to come up with new defenses, it's not to come up with new apologies, it's not to come up with new attacks. It's [simply] let's get our hands around this. Let's see what really is there, let's try to explain this as clearly and thoughtfully as we can, so people can come out of it with a better understanding of it all. Let's have a careful look at it all, put the truth out, and let the truth stand.


We have to open to our mistakes and our failures. We learn more from them than from what we do right. Everything from mechanical things like your refrigerator, to married life. We have to be open to the idea that we can make mistake and we can fail. You have to look at what happened and why and then look at better ideas that can bring better outcomes. Life is full of ups, downs, challenges, and opportunities. Things will go wrong, identify them and then build from them.


The parent is the child of the man.


Mentioned in this Episode

Podcast art. Image of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Meet the Author James R. Hanson of The First Man on the Lindberghs Podcast.

New episode, more history. Image of phone with image of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh on the phone.

Text from unknown person, "Hey James, what have you been up to lately?" reply from James, "I'm finishing up reading all of the diaries written by Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh."

Quote. by James R. Hansen. It was me moving through Anne Morrow's diaries that led me to a better understanding of not only Anne, but of Charles and their relationship. I found a number of surprises there that I had not thought of before.

Quote by James R. Hansen. The parent is the child of the man.

About James Hanson

Dr. James R. Hansen is Professor of History at Auburn University in Alabama. An expert in the history of science and technology, Hansen has written books and articles covering a wide variety of topics ranging from the early days of aviation, first nuclear fusion reactors, and Moon landings, to the environmental impact of golf courses.

His prizewinning book, FIRST MAN (Simon & Schuster, 2005, 2012), the first and only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, spent three weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and garnered major book awards, including the American Astronautical Society's Prize for Astronautical Literature, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Outstanding Book Award, and CHOICE magazine's Outstanding Academic Book of 2006. A two-volume Japanese translation of FIRST MAN has been published, with translations into Chinese, Turkish, Croatian, and Bulgarian in progress.

His newest book is A DIFFICULT PAR: ROBERT TRENT JONES SR. AND THE MAKING OF MODERN GOLF (Gotham Penguin, 2014). The book was awarded the Herbert Warren Wind Award by the United States Golf Association as the best golf book of the year. An internationally known expert on the history of golf architecture, Hansen has published numerous articles on the subject in golf magazines and given scholarly and public presentations on the history of golf course architecture in the United States, Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Australia, and England. For the past 17 years he has been a golf course rater for Golfweek. An avid golfer since youth, Jim played college golf and was co-captain of his team for two years.

Hansen will continue writing both about golf and aerospace history. In 1995 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration nominated his book SPACEFLIGHT REVOLUTION for a Pulitzer Prize, the only time NASA has ever made such a nomination. His book FROM THE GROUND UP(1988) won the History Book Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. His scholarship has also been honored with the Robert H. Goddard Award from the National Space Club and certificates of distinction from the Air Force Historical Foundation. His other recent books, THE BIRD IS ON THE WING(Texas A&M University Press) and THE WIND AND BEYOND (NASA) explore the role of aerodynamics in the progress of the airplane in America. The latter is a six-volume series prepared by Hansen and a team of his graduate students for NASA, volume three of which is due to appear in 2014. In 2005 THE WIND AND BEYOND won the Society for the History of Technology's Eugene Ferguson Prize for Outstanding Reference Work. His newest book, TRUTH, LIES, AND O-RINGS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER DISASTER was published in May 2009 by the University Press of Florida, with co-author Allan J. McDonald.

A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he graduated summa cum laude and with Honors from Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. He earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University in 1981. Jim has taught history at Auburn University since 1986. Both his teaching and his scholarship have received numerous awards from the university including the Teaching Excellence Award in the Humanities, an Alumni Professorship, the Outstanding Teacher in the Core Curriculum, and the Office of the Vice President for Research's Creative Research Award. In 2005, he was inducted into the College of Liberal Arts' Academy of Teaching and Outstanding Scholars. He is Auburn's nominee for U.S. Professor of the Year for 2015.

(Credit: author page.)

About Erik and Lyn Lindbergh

Erik and Lyn are the co-hosts of The Lindberghs Podcast. Learn more about Erik at: and Lyn at:


Join Erik in his quest to Escape from Gravity.

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The 100th Anniversary - 1927 - 2027 - Icon of the Spirit of Saint Louis


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