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First Man : The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (edition 2005)

by James R. Hansen

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3451131,545 (3.81)8
Member:arukiyomi
Title:First Man : The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
Authors:James R. Hansen
Info:Simon & Schuster (2005), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
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Tags:good, biography, space, science, 2006-03, non-fiction

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First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen

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As the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, this book has the usual faults and virtues of such an exercise. On one hand, due to access to private materials, significant myths are debunked about the subject. On the other, one can sometimes wonder how forthright the author is about what he is thinking about his subject. In between tracking the choices that led to Armstrong becoming the first man to step onto the Moon, and the technology that was involved, the point that crystallized the book for me came late, when Armstrong admitted that while his flying was not very intuitive, he made up for this with more precision. This admission could describe much of the rest of Armstrong’s life, as he seemed to function best in structured environments where problems could be dealt with in isolation. Unfortunately, this was not an approach that served Armstrong well either in his first marriage, where he seems to have given too little back in terms of emotional support and time, or in post-astronaut life in general, where the man’s iconic status (and generally closed personality) seemed to lead to, at best, general awkwardness.

This also offers some insight into the resentment that the community of military test pilots seemed to have for the man (a running topic in this book), in that Armstrong’s desire to keep his own counsel and avoid personal conflict could be seen as arrogance and his flying style might be seen as awkward by men who were more intuitive fliers. This, of course, discounts the Darwinian drive for prestige and advancement between the American military and civilian aerospace efforts, which the civilian side was probably always going to win, with Armstrong probably being the leading civilian test pilot in the NACA/NASA complex (not to mention being a good organization man). Hansen, being a NASA man himself, might not best placed to comment on this issue. I might be unfair in this instance, as Hansen does seem to deal forthrightly with how the crew of Apollo 11 was anything but a band of brothers (which was seen as unusual at the time); possibly a comment on Armstrong's leadership skills. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 4, 2012 |
An amazing book which if filled with technical detail as well as anecdotes about Neil Armstrong. Most of the excruciating detail could be better served as an appendix, but overall an interesting read, if you can get past the first 150 pages. The book explains some of Mr. Armstrong's "recluse behavior", which I for one never thought he practiced and admired him for not embracing fame, especially at this age of reality TV and other shameful displays of humanity. Several pages of this book are dedicated to misconceptions about the moon landing, especially those circulating in cyber space, which alone is worth the price of the book.

The book moves from excruciating technical details to moving personal stories, all important to help us understand the subject at hand. As in any history book / biography the most interesting parts are the small anecdotes we never will hear. ( )
1 vote ZoharLaor | Jan 6, 2010 |
There are two approaches to writing a biography. In the first, the subject is treated as if he or she were the protagonist of a novel - their life is dramatised. A good example of this type would be Rocketman by Nancy Conrad and Howard Klausner (see here). The second approach is far more academic, and treats its subject as just that, the subject of the book. To me, what the first type gains in readability it loses in authority. First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong by James R Hansen also proves the point, albeit from the opposite direction.

Neil Alden Armstrong is, of course, the first man to set foot on the Moon. On 20th July 1969, he climbed down from the hatch of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, stepped onto the lunar regolith and said, "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind".

First Man is authoritative. Hansen was chosen by Armstrong as his biographer in 2002, and the book quotes the astronaut extensively. It was also uses a great many quotes from Michael Collins' Carrying the Fire (see here) and Buzz Aldrin's Return to Earth (see here)... which does give a somewhat odd effect: for example, Armstrong is commenting on Apollo 11 after more than thirty years, but his crewmates' commentaries are from no more than a couple of years after the lunar landing. This also gives Armstrong the benefit of three decades of thought on the matter. But while he has been chiefly characterised as an introspective, thoughtful man, there isn't actually that much evidence of this in the book.

See the rest of the review at http://spacebookspace.blogspot.com/2009/07/first-man-james-hansen.html ( )
2 vote iansales | Jul 20, 2009 |
A comprehensive, and first-authorized, biography of one of the most famous personages in world history. That's quite a claim but when you consider more people can quote Neil Armstrong than Shakespeare, it's not without merit. Considering Neil Armstrong has led what many people consider to be a "reclusive" life post-moon landing (relative to Lindbergh's experience), this book opens the door to an otherwise elusive person.
1 vote NateJordon | Feb 26, 2009 |
I really enjoyed the history behind the moon landing and Neil Armstrong. I remember the moon landing, but never knew the man. All the details were fascinating, and made for a good flow through his life, but also seemed tedius at times. At the same time, I'd like to know a little more of his life outside of his career and how that influenced him.

Some of the narration seemed weak. James Hansen obviously tried to bring the story full circle at the end, but the feeling was almost contrived (I won't spoil it...). ( )
2 vote Nodosaurus | Oct 14, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 074325631X, Hardcover)

On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch thirty-eight-year-old American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong become the first person ever to step on the surface of another heavenly body. Perhaps no words in human history became better known than those few he uttered at that historic moment.

Upon his return to Earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also -- as James R. Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important authorized biography -- misunderstood. Armstrong's accomplishments as an engineer, a test pilot, and an astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen's unprecedented access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield this first in-depth analysis of an elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over.

In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly re-creates Armstrong's career in flying, from his seventy-eight combat missions as a naval aviator flying over North Korea to his formative transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to his piloting Gemini VIII to the first-ever docking in space. These milestones made it seem, as Armstrong's mother, Viola, memorably put it, "as if from the very moment he was born -- farther back still -- that our son was somehow destined for the Apollo 11 mission."

For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong's storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children. For the thirty-six years since the Moon landing, rumors have swirled around Armstrong concerning his dreams of space travel, his religious beliefs, and his private life.

In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and as an individual. In First Man, the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history's most famous space traveler.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch 38-year-old American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong become the first person ever to step on the surface of another heavenly body. Upon his return to Earth, Armstrong was celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also--as NASA historian Hansen reveals in this authorized biography--misunderstood. Armstrong's accomplishments as an engineer, a test pilot, and an astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen's access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield the first in-depth analysis of this elusive, reluctant hero. Hansen recreates Armstrong's flying career, from his combat missions over North Korea to his transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to the first-ever docking in space. For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong's storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children.--From publisher description.… (more)

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