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The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff (original 1979; edition 1980)

by Tom Wolfe

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3,176411,762 (4.21)94
Title:The Right Stuff
Authors:Tom Wolfe
Info:Bantam (1980), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Space, History, X projects, Mercury, Apollo

Work details

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)

  1. 20
    Failure is not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Eugene Kranz (Anonymous user)
  2. 10
    V-2 by Walter Dornberger (dukeallen)
  3. 10
    A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin (paulkid)
    paulkid: Chaikin gives a respectful account of the later astronauts' journeys and their personalities, while Wolfe gives irreverent and hilarious depictions of the mood and personalities surrounding the beginning of the space race (ie, Mercury and pre-Mercury).
  4. 00
    Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: Wolfe tells of the early and sometimes would-be astronauts and Smith of the later ones who walked on the moon. Both books are wonderfully readable.
  5. 00
    Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (nessreader)
    nessreader: The shift in corporate mentality in NASA between the testosterone drenched fighter pilots of Wolfe's era and the team orientated and PR-paranoid present is instructive. The terrifying discipline required seems equal; in any case, interesting to compare.

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
The Right Stuff was published in 1979, or only about 20 years from the events it describes. We are now about 35 years from the book so it's beginning to age and it's possible to consider how time has treated it. My assessment is it's a classic of the first order that will be read for generations, and has influenced the whole space book genre. Wolfe captures not only the Mercury Project and test pilots, but American culture ca. 1955-1962. It's worth noting Wolfe has a PhD from Yale in "American Studies" (1951), he is a professionally trained observer of culture. Not that it's academic, Wolfe is smart and entertaining southern raconteur. It does seem a little dated because of a subtle Freudian perspective now out of style; however even that gives it a greater historical fidelity, and underscores how good a storyteller Freud was. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Apr 20, 2016 |
Wolfe lit the candle and I sat back and read. Thrilling read! ( )
  deckehoe | Nov 27, 2015 |
The Right Stuff is so well written I think of it as a novel. It is bold and expansive and vintage American. It is also a big book. Not in size. But in scope, in subject. I wish more authors dared such subjects these days. Indeed, here is a book that also abandons the modern erudite sensibility to be unsentimental--where “understated prose” is high praise (groan). After all, put aside how well this book tells the story of test pilots who tested the limits of man. Does any novel better capture the American spirit, the sense of limitless horizon, of possibility, that defined this nation after the Second World War? Can you even write words like “American spirit” anymore without garnering groans? Wolfe can. And yet this book is not gung-ho. It carries missed opportunities and sadness and unfulfilled talent with it, as well. It does not shy from who history tends to remember, and who it should remember. But I love it most for how Wolfe writes fact with the magnificence once confined to fiction. I still remember lines like those concerning John Glenn--“It was an extraordinary thing, being the sort of mortal who brought tears to other men’s eyes.” I think it’s also an extraordinary thing to be able to write a book this good. ( )
  DavidPaulKuhn | Jul 9, 2015 |
This story easily entered my Top 5 books within the first 2 chapters. It only grew from there. Wolfe's style, pacing, and his narrative voice demonstrate an extraordinary gift of storytelling surpassing many past and present peers. That narrator voice is pretty unique in writing - conversational and familiar, sharp and analytical, a bit of the South in it...

Wolfe was not afraid to let his own opinions show (which I guess was the critical component of "New Journalism") but he doesn't attempt to pass opinions as facts aka John Reed, et al. You know it's a person telling it as they see it with the resulting knowledge that you know where they're coming from. Additionally, when he's relating how a witness perceived an event, it is still in the narrative voice, rather than adopting the voice of the person who used it. In many ways, this could have been a disastrous approach, but it works. You feel this is a guy telling you a story.

There was hilarity on most pages, even in the morbid statistics. I loved the portions on the chimps. You really felt for Ham and Enos and the tortures they endured. The worse the picture became, the more Wolfe ratcheted up the wide-eyed, can-you-believe-this-crap comedy. ( )
  Hae-Yu | May 5, 2015 |
This is the story of America's first astronauts. The original seven men chosen to go into space. It starts out explaining what it was like to be a fighter pilot in the late 50 and discussed Yeager breaking the sound barrier and how the way he carried himself influenced other pilots. He had the right stuff. And to be a great pilot, you had to have the right stuff. Part of that included some level of contempt for death. Because you had a 23% chance of dying as a fighter pilot in some sort of accident. So the right stuff get a lot of comment from the author as he goes thru his history. It becomes the theme of the book.

The seven were all drawn from the pilot community. Most of them were fighter pilots. Sheppard was the first American in space. Grissom was next and John Glenn was the first American to orbit the planet. The Russians were beating us each time we were planning on doing something in space. Americans were more than concerned, they were frightened. The Russians were flying over our country in space and we couldn't do anything about it much less repeat the feat. What was there to stop them from dropping an atom bomb on their way over our cities?

The positive patriotic reaction to Glenn's space flight was dramatic. New York City gave him a parade, in the winter, where the streets were packed with cheering crying people. They were so proud of him and the national achievement that crowds of people were cheering with tears streaming down their faces! Even the policemen on their horses directing traffic were crying. I've never seen anything like that personally and wonder what it would take for Americans to feel that kind of passionate pride again?

A decent history though you can tell there are some bias on the part of the author (Wasn't a fan of Grissom) and he has his way of viewing things. This book goes thru the end of Project Mercury. The original seven pilots went on to do other great things but this book doesn't follow them past project Mercury. The second group begin their time at the end of the book. ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
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Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312427565, Paperback)

Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."

Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne. Chuck Yeager was certainly among the fastest, and his determination to push through Mach 1--a feat that some had predicted would cause the destruction of any aircraft--makes him the book's guiding spirit.

Yet soon the focus shifts to the seven initial astronauts. Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:41 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A narrative of the early days of the U.S. space program and the people who made it happen, including Chuck Yeager, Pete Conrad, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn.

(summary from another edition)

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