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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men…
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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon (2009)

by Craig Nelson

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4131441,122 (3.96)24
Author Craig Nelson restores the mystery and majesty to an event that may have become too familiar for most people to realize what a stunning achievement it represented in planning, technology, and execution. Through interviews, 23,000 pages of NASA oral histories, and declassified CIA documents on the space race, Nelson creates a vivid and detailed account of the Apollo 11 mission. From the quotidian to the scientific to the magical, readers are taken right into the cockpit with Aldrin and Armstrong and behind the scenes at Mission Control.--From publisher description.… (more)

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» See also 24 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Through interviews, 23,000 pages of NASA oral histories, and declassified CIA documents on the space race, Nelson offers a grippingly vivid and detailed account of the Apollo 11 mission. Beginning with the arduous training to the stress of media stardom, the author recounts the story of a twentieth-century pilgrimage, a voyage into the unknown motivated by politics, science, and wonder. A voyage that changed history.

But, at its core, “Rocket Men” is a human story, a tale of heroic astronauts, tolerant wives, and often-preoccupied children. It is the story of ground crews and Mission Control and those who stood behind the men and the mission. Readers will find themselves cheering for their astounding accomplishments.

Highly recommended. ( )
  jfe16 | Nov 14, 2018 |
I wanted badly to like this book. It's about the nerdiest of nerds, guys who literally wore pocket protectors and carried around slide rules, and yet managed to land a dozen human beings on a rock floating through space.

Never has the use of precisely controlled unfathomably large explosions to propel a massive vehicle into the heavens managed to seem so boring. I get that the vast majority of the guys you're talking to were the engineers whose professional lives definitely peaked when they launched dudes into space, but that's where you, as the writer, are supposed to work your magic. Even oral histories tend to use editing to make things seem connected, and make sense, and maybe even work out a logical structure, please?

But no. There's a common format for works about monumental events: You start right around the most exciting time, then leave the reader hanging on a pivotal moment as you circle back and start at the beginning. The thought, I suppose, is to hook the reader's interest so you can explain what led up to it (ignoring the fact that the personal already bought a multiple-hundred-page book about the topic). In this case, the author liked it so much he used it twice: We start a few months out and tiptoe right up to the Apollo 11 launch ... then we back up to the beginning of the Apollo 11 program, when it looks like it might not launch at all. Then, after we get about to where we started ... we back up to the entire history of rocketry and missiles.
If it sounds confusing and disjointed, that's because it is.

But it's not the only issue. From ninth-grade essays up to the latest historical monographs, the best writing tends to be done by those with a passionate interest in the topic. Which makes total sense! Frankly, if you're pounding out a couple hundred pages on a topic that bores you to death, it's unlikely anyone is going to derive any enjoyment from reading it (see: Every primary/secondary education textbook ever).

But there's a distinction you have to draw between interest and advocation when you're writing objectively: In the same way I don't 100 percent trust everything Fox News or the Huffington Post says without third-party verification, I'm also gonna need a little bit more background before I swallow the entirety of Winston Churchill's History of English-Speaking Peoples (spoiler alert: The British come off pretty good in it).

Rocket Men Author Craig Nelson is a homer of the highest order who, if he doesn't actuallly believe it himself, let the astronauts and people deeply involved with the space program inform too much of the narrative thrust of the book.

To be clear, I think the Apollo program (which is mostly what this book chronicles) was a masterful effort of technology, government, politics, engineering and human spirit. Landing on the moon is probably the most significant event for the human species to date. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we should be spending trillions of dollars to put a man on Mars, and I resent the implication that questioning that notion makes me unpatriotic or terminally short-sighted.

I really do think it's unfortunate. There are great stories, anecdotes and personalities on display throughout Rocket Men, and the author clearly did an enormous amount of research bringing it all together. I just wish he would have focused a little bit more effort on the writing part, too. ( )
1 vote thoughtbox | May 27, 2016 |
A fine history of the space program and Apollo missions. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Straight forward history of the space program. Not too much on Mercury and Gemini. Covers the early years (post WWII) when the Von Braun and his Germans were getting things started. Most of the focus is on the Apollo program, started by President Kennedy as a political response to Soviet successes. The trip of Apollo 11 is described hour by hour. ( )
1 vote stevesmits | Jul 3, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Craig Nelsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
McGonagle, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Then what I am [when flying]--the body substance which I can see with my eyes and feel with my hands? Or am I this realization, this greater understanding which dwells within it, yet expands through the universe outside; a part of all existence, powerless but without the need for power; immersed in solitude, yet in contact with all creation?
--Charles Lindberg, The Spirit of St. Louis
Ad astra per aspera--
A rough path leads to the stars.
--Apollo 1 Memorial, Kennedy Space Center
Dedication
Dedicated to the 400,000 men and women of Apollo. You made the dream come true.
First words
On May 20, 1969, at 12:30 p.m. EST, a 363-foot, thirty-story-high black-and-white Saturn V rocket known as AS-506 was painstakingly trundled five miles across the raging heat and searing green of central Florida's eastern coast by an eleven-man Kennedy Space Center crew aboard the world's third-largest land vehicle, a six-million-pound, tank-wheeled crawler out of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building, itself a 129-million-cubic-foot edifice so massive that its steel accordion doors were forty-five stories high and, without its ten-thousand ton air conditioner, interior clouds would form under its 525-foot-high ceiling...and it would rain.
Quotations
When old dreams die, new ones come to take their place. God pity a one-dream man.
--Robert Goddard
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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