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The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff (1979)

by Tom Wolfe

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3,508502,246 (4.22)124
  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
    Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (JenniferRobb)
  5. 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.
  6. 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 45 (next | show all)
I first read this book about 20 years ago when I was really obsessed with space and convinced that I would one day become an astronaut. The former of those two things has not changed, but I've become much more realistic about the almost zero chance of the latter. I wanted to re-read this book and see how I'd feel now that I'm a pilot and also now that I just have 20 years more life under my belt in general.

I recall having really loved this book, and I still really loved this book. It's easy to read, and it's fun to read. I had a hard time putting it down and got resentful of my hairdresser for being ready for me early when I hadn't finished reading a sentence yet. The story of the origins of the space program are compelling, I found myself rooting for all of the test pilots and astronauts in this story, and feeling suspense about events that happened so many years ago that the outcomes are common knowledge (at least for space nerds such as myself).

However (you all knew that word was coming), I know that any narrative interpretation of the early space program (this book is mostly about the Mercury project with emphasis on the first few flights, and some narrative on the X-1 and X-15/X-20 projects) is going to be colored with bias, incomplete information, and just plain old story telling. This is no exception. Other reviewers lambast Wolfe for his biased takes on some of the astronauts. I do not take this book to be gospel truth, but a literary interpretation of the events that happened. More importantly, this book is a literary interpretation of the inner workings of test pilots and the first astronauts, hence the title: The Right Stuff.

I have to say, I hate The Right Stuff attitude. The FAA has literally defined some hazardous attitudes (such things that can and probably will get you into a possibly life-threatening situation when you're behind the stick and rudder of an aircraft) and two of them are: "macho" and "invulnerability." Sound familiar? Not to mention the toxic masculinity that kept (and continues to keep) women away from aviation and the space program that also caused and continues to cause problems for men. (What does it say about you as a man if you can't make it to the top of that pyramid? Or even half way up? That can't be a fun way to view your worth as a human.)

I don't fault the book for being about The Right Stuff. It is what it is, I don't hate the book, I just hate the culture that idolizes and worships harmful stereotypes and attitudes. I don't even think that Wolfe idolizes and glorifies this Right Stuff attitude as much as he just spelled out the way things were, and that's just the way things were. I'm grateful that we're (slowly) moving away from such a flawed outlook toward the understanding that people are humans and we are what we are. ( )
  lemontwist | Apr 19, 2019 |
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. SOFT
  JRCornell | Jan 30, 2019 |
Wolfe's history of the mystique of aviation in the early days of supersonic flight and the entry of the U.S. into the space race via the Mercury program, is fascinating reading. Never sappy and often cynical, the honest drama still shines through.

Wolfe paints test pilots like the inimitable Chuck Yeager, and the Mercury 7 astronauts, with a clear and unromanticized reality, yet manages to effectively discuss the Single Combat theory and apply it to these 20th century gladiators, while taking frequent healthy swipes at the reality of career military men and the women whose status rises and falls in lockstep with their husbands' achievements.

"Must" reading for anyone interested in the early days of NASA and the state of military aviation in the mid-20th century. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Dec 14, 2018 |
The Right Stuff is a non-fiction account of the origin of the United States space program and the space race against the Soviet Union. It starts in the 1940s and goes up through the Mercury project. This book is chock-full of detailed information about airplanes and spacecraft. A lot of it went over my head – I found myself drifting off when listening to those parts. However, I was still able to grasp the timeline of events and the broad strokes of what was happening. I was hoping there would be more about the personal lives about the various astronauts, especially the stars like John Glenn and Alan Shepard.

The Right Stuff is narrated by Dennis Quaid. His tone is very man’s man – perfect for the way this book is written. However, he needs to work on his accents! Luckily, he didn’t need to use one very often.

I think this book would appeal to techies who are looking for detailed information about the rise of the space program up through our first orbital launch. Unfortunately, that person is not me. ( )
  mcelhra | May 16, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Mar 2009):
- Probably the best 'dramatized' nonfiction I've read, not that the story of the original astronauts needs much embellishment. Wolfe takes us from the near void of the U.S. space effort to the magnificent leaps and bounds taken in a relative few years. His intimate telling of the astronauts' lives through this metamorphosis is what really interested me most. From the All-America milk-drinking John Glenn to the carefree, somewhat immoral Shepherd and others in between, this is a fun ride. Being "up there" in the capsules for each man's orbital mission was related nicely by the author. * Coincidentally, I posted the above on the day Mr Wolfe died at age 88. Bon voyage to a seemingly one of a kind figure. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | May 14, 2018 |
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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)

Men first flew into space in 1961, but until The Right Stuff was first published in 1979 few people had a sense of the most engrossing side of that adventure: namely, the perceptions and goals of the astronauts themselves, aloft and during certain remarkable odysseys on earth. It is this, the inner world of the early astronauts, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, and their confreres, that Tom Wolfe describes with his extraordinary powers of empathy. He shows us the bidden olympus to which all ambitious combat and test pilots aspired, the top of the pyramid of the right stuff. And we learn the nature of the ineffable pilot's grace without which all else meant nothing. We see the men whose achievements dominated the flying fraternity in the late 1950's as the space age began, men like Chuck Yeager and Joe Walker, pilots of the first rocket planes, most notably the X-1 and the X-15. The selection of the Mercury astronauts in 1959 shook up the fraternity as thoroughly as had Yeager's breaking of the sound barrier twelve years before. Public excitement and concern over the space race with the Soviets immediately elevated the seven astronauts to the uneasy eminence of heroes, long before their first flight. We see the seven men, in the very moment of their idolization by the outside world, struggling to gain the respect of their peers within the flying fraternity, even to the point of altering NASA's original conception of the astronaut's role in keeping with the unspoken prerequisites of the right stuff. - Author web site.… (more)

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