The Space Race

Three titles celebrate and consider the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

redstarBrinkley, Douglas. American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race. Harper. Apr. 2019. 576p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062655066. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780062655080. SCI
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this promise kept, CNN’s presidential historian Brinkley (history, Rice Univ.; Rightful Heritage) presents a sweeping narrative of the U.S.-Soviet space race, culminating in Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong’s lunar walk on July 20, 1969. Much of the book delves deeply into Apollo’s historical roots, beginning with Robert Goddard’s pioneering rocketry experiments in the 1920s; continuing with Nazi party member and SS officer Werner von Braun’s development of the V1 and V2 rockets that slaughtered thousands of English citizens but which did not prevent him from becoming Kennedy’s space science expert; and concluding with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects (1958–72). Brinkley is at his best when sharing stories about astronauts such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The author concludes that, regrettably, only Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 guaranteed full funding for the costly Apollo project: the cornerstone of Kennedy’s New Frontier era.
VERDICT Enlightening and absorbing, this account will fascinate historians, history buffs, and popular science enthusiasts. See also James Donovan’s Shoot the Moon .—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

redstarFishman, Charles. One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon. S. & S. Jun. 2019. 480p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781501106293. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501106316. SCI
According to Pulitzer Prize–winning author Arthur Schlesinger, the landing of U.S. Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969 was the most significant event of the 20th century. Fishman (The Big Thirst) skillfully tells the remarkable story of the event in his latest offering, explaining that when John F. Kennedy made his famous proclamation in a May 1961 speech that "we choose to go to the moon," the United States was completely unprepared to do so. NASA lacked the proper tools and equipment, did not know how to navigate to the moon, nor what to expect from its surface. The author illustrates how this incredible achievement was accomplished and challenges encountered along the way. Of note was the immense human capital needed to accomplish the feat; contributors included scientists and factory workers who literally wove Apollo’s computer programs with copper wire. In addition, Fishman provides fascinating details about the mission, including how the moon smells and how the American flag was made to appear as though it were flying despite the moon lacking an atmosphere.
VERDICT With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, this compelling read is highly recommended for all public libraries.—Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL

Stone, Robert L. & Alan Andres. Chasing the Moon: The People, the Politics, and the Promise That Launched America into the Space Age. Ballantine. Jun. 2019. 384p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781524798123. $32; ebk. ISBN 9781524798130. SCI
Many books about the moon landing have focused on the heroes and the hardware—the astronauts who had the "right stuff" to undertake the lunar voyage and the spacecraft and rockets that transported them. In this tie-in to the eponymous American Experience ® documentary airing on PBS, Stone (the show’s filmmaker and screenwriter) and Andres (consulting producer and researcher) take a look back at the origins of the moon quest through the lens of culture, politics, and innovation. From the pioneering rocket engineers to the sf writers who planted the seeds of the possibility of spaceflight in the public’s imagination, the authors tell the story of the real-life drama that culminated in Neil Armstrong’s iconic first step on the moon. They also paint portraits of the key figures who made the moonshot possible, as well as insights into the social issues that affected how the program was administered and funded. Of interest are the authors’ observations about the role of the media—specifically the live broadcasts of the Apollo missions—in garnering public support.
VERDICT Rich in detail, this title offers a fresh perspective on the space race to general readers and space enthusiasts alike.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

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