Friday, November 11, 2011

#82: Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson

New York: Viking, 2009. 404 pages.

I am a sucker for books about the Space Race. I picked this up when I finally broke down and bought "A Game of Thrones". I saw this book with the picture of Buzz Aldrin next to the U.S. flag during Apollo 11 flight, and I saw the discount price of $5.98. SOLD!

Oh well, would that it were worth it. Don't get me wrong, it is not a bad book. Craig Nelson wrote a very well received biography of Thomas Paine, and his writing is crisp and detailed. What this one lacked was really anything new that one could not get out of any of the other 75,000 books about the Apollo program. I made the mistake of actually thinking it was solely about Apollo 11. That was my mistake, as Nelson's text careens through the timeline of the mission, interspersing anecdotes with stories about Robert Goddard, JFK, Werner Von Braun and Sergei Korolev. The info on Von Braun, whose record of service with the Nazis has been classified and then expunged, is quite well done.

But again, there is little here that is new. Besides some excellent quotes from Alan Sheperd concerning JFK (actually using the term "Space Cadet" with its original connotation) and a couple of anecdotes about the years after the mission, a reader should check out "Moon Shot" by Deke Slayton and Shepard.

For those (like me) who constantly bitch that the US put men on the moon 42 years ago and that we are now a country whose own citizens think can do nothing right, Nelson does offer some hope. He does point out that it took roughly 60 years to get from the Wright Bros to reliable jet travel. Of course, space travel is much more difficult than jet travel. It also took roughly 120 years between Columbus "discovered" a continent with millions of people on it and the founding of Plymouth colony. We could do more; the question as always is are we willing to pay for it? In the 1950s, it was "Hot damn! Let's go!" Now it appears to be "Waaaaaaaa!  We can't afford stuff like space flight! We can't afford ANYTHING! Good lord! That SOB Johnson and that even bigger SOB Roosevelt ruined this country with their damn Socialism! I'll cut three departments from the Federal government: Commerce, the EPA and that one what deals with school lunches. Do you know lunch ladies have a UNION!?!?!?! What in the Blue Blazes of the Left Nut of St. Reagan is wrong with these people?"


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