By Susan Butler
The myths surrounding the life and legacy of Amelia Earhart run the gamut from the mundane to the ridiculous. Since her disappearance in 1937, people have questioned not only her actual death, but many aspects of her life, including the nature of the relationship with her husband, the flamboyant publishing magnate George Palmer Putnam, and even her very competency as a flier. Now, with East to the Dawn, Susan Butler offers the most comprehensive account to date of Earhart's extraordinary life- and finally sets the record straight. The image we have of Amelia Earhart today- a tousle-haired, androgynous flier clad in shirt, silk scarf, leather jacket, and goggles- is only one of her many personas, most of which have been lost to us through the years. Many of her accomplishments have been obscured by a growing obsession with the mystery of her disappearance. As well, Earhart herself was a master of putting on faces: a woman constantly striving for success and personal freedom in the 1920s and '30s, she could scarcely afford to let on when something was troubling her. Through years of research, however, as well as interviews with many of the surviving people who knew Amelia, Susan Butler has recreated a remarkably vivid and multi-faceted portrait of this enigmatic figure. As a result, readers experience Amelia in all her permutations: not just as a pilot, but also as an educator, a social worker, a lecturer, a businesswoman, and a tireless promoter of women's rights; we experience a remarkably energetic and enterprising woman who succeeded in life beyond her wildest dreams, while never losing sight of her beginnings; and we experience a woman who battled incredible odds to achieve her fame, while ensuring that her success would secure a path for women after her. Some odds, are insurmountable, however, and this fact became painfully evident on the last leg of Earhart's round-the-world- flight. In the chapters describing the last flight, Butler deals with and dispels some of the most pernicious myths about Amelia- for instance, that her disappearance was planned as part of an espionage mission against the Japanese. Instead, she offers a less romantic but ultimately tragic scenario: that the Electra's limited navigational equipment was unable to find Howland Island- a piece of land the size of the Cleveland Airport- in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and a great flier died at sea. Butler masterfully renders this portrait of the first lady of aviation in a story filled with drama, pathos, and humor. East to the Dawn is a landmark biography, and will be the definitive life of Amelia Earhart for years to come.