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March 03, 1985|PAUL DEAN

The metamorphosis represented by the title, No Longer An Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers 1902-1909 by Alfred Gollin (Stanford: $35), involved much more than one country's loss of solitude and privacy. Britain's singular trust on the Royal Navy and sea power came to an end. The British Isles became vulnerable to invasion and that hadn't been much of a threat since 1066 and all that Norman conquering. New military files were opened on something called "air power" and a harbinger was born, an omen that loomed until the London blitz and the Battle of Britain almost four decades later. And each change confirmed the 1903 forewarning by British newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe who analyzed the economic, political, social and strategic import of man's first powered flight and quietly declared: "England is no longer an island." And so it was that the British government alone (despite some classic dogfighting, ineptness and duplicity involving household surnames, Churchill, George, Haig and Northcliffe) picked through the early genius of Orville and Wilbur--right down to planting a spy in their camp and (after the bloke's monumental blunder) the attempted theft of their mechanical and aerodynamic secrets by Charles Rolls, the eventual heavyweight before the hyphen of Rolls-Royce. This book is a yet another full contribution to history by Gollin, professor of history at UC Santa Barbara and a three-time Guggenheim Fellow regarded (by Oxford University, no less) as one of the most brilliant historical detectives of our time.

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