The Right Stuff
Always a sucker for anything dealing with the space program, I ate up "The Right Stuff" when I read it. It was pure fascination from opening to end for me, and still is. The book riveted me with its portrayal of the test pilots that became the new American hero, the Mercury Astronauts.
"The Right Stuff", both film and book, is the story of the earliest days of America's space program. Wolfe chronicles the development of the Mercury missions from inception to completion, and weaves together all the elements of the day that bore on the problem, from Cold War Posturing, to the political wrangling between the factions in Congress, to the ever-capricious whims of public sentiment. The many engineering hurdles, costly failures, and triumphant successes are all set down herein, as well as the petty jealousies and personality conflicts that never saw the light of day in the era of a more discreet press bent on making heroes of the astronauts.
Often, one gets the impression that the chaos surrounding the space program could never actually get a man off the ground, let alone into orbit, despite the fact that we know they did just that. "The Right Stuff" does make for an interesting read if you are at all interested in our space program, and the novel's treatment of these times is more complete than the movie's, yet it still doesn't quite satisfy.
Wolfe's prose is readable, and his wry sense of humor is entertaining when he lets it bubble up into view, but his book lacks a central identity. Wolfe tries to provide a good story and a good history, but ends up with a book that wanders from one to the other without any sense of self. Written for a lay audience, it isn't documented at all, and Wolfe often glosses over details or only lightly touches important aspects of his chronicle. On the other hand, he does try to give us glimpses into the characters and personalities of many of the astronauts, pilots, and their wives. He never...
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