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Space Review: Apollo 11's greatest hits and misses: a short reading guide

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A Man on the Moon and Apollo: The Murder Race is among the now classic accounts of the Apollo program.

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Members of the space community eagerly eat the spread of new books and documentaries that mark fifty-year-old Apollo Anniversaries, some of them noted here at The Space Review. At the same time for many others, these new accounts represent their introduction to the Apollo story.

Probably some of these new contributions to the literature will stand the time test, while others will end in the bargain.

30 years after its original publication Apollo is still widely regarded as the best account of the program ever written.

So to guide the reader to Apollo and as a feed for the endless debates for the old-timers below is a short list of the best, the most important, Apollo accounts that have expelled. This list is by no means complete, but intends to give an introduction to the Moon missions themselves, the men behind the scenes who made them successful, and the best first hand accounts and biographies of the Apollo 1

1 crew.

Finally, as a warning, we will tell two books that should be avoided at all costs.


A man on the moon by Andrew Chaikin. Viking, 1994.

Chaikin interviewed all 23 surviving astronauts flying to the Moon and availed of the recently released (then) classified embedded voice recorders to produce this well-documented account of all Apollo lunar missions. His meticulous scholarship is evident in his legible narrative. That the book of Chaikin was used as the basis for the recognized Tom Hanks-produced HBO series from Earth to Moon is a measure of this book's stature. For a reading about Apollo for the first time, this is the best place to start.

Apollo: The Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox. Simon and Schuster, 1989. Expressed with a new introduction as Apollo South Mountain Books, 2004.

30 years after the first publication Apollo is still widely regarded as the best account of the program ever written. Murray and Cox well-liked the story of the men behind the scenes who worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to meet Kennedy's challenge of landing a man on the moon. Based on interviews with dozens of Apollo workers, Murray and Cox tell their stories with joke, insight, intelligence and elegance. The chapter on the first Saturn V launch is perhaps the most accurate and evocative tale of the decisive landmark and my personal favorite (see "And then on the start day it worked": Marking the 50th Anniversary of the First Saturn V Launch) The Space Review, October 30, 2017. If you want to read only an Apollo story, it is it.

Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey by Michael Collins. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974.

Collins comes across in his autobiography as a gracious, self-explanatory Everyman, training as a Command Module Pilot for the first Moon Landing Mission while he cares about whether his roses have black spots. Not exactly what you expect from the right things, but Collins is obviously his own man, comfortable in his own skin, even though he risks going to the moon. He memorably gives a sentence criticism of his with astronauts ("Pete Conrad must play Pete Conrad in a Pete Conrad movie") and give the best first-hand account on how it was to fly a Gemini mission: his Gemini 10 aircraft also Collins more detailed , extended account in his later book Liftoff Grove Press, 1988).

First Man: Neil A. Armstrong's Life by James R. Hansen. Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Forget about the five-star reviews on Amazon: Rocket Men is the worst space story ever released.

Neil Armstrong died unexpectedly in 2012, but fortunately, not before James Hansen completed his biography, capturing a life full of the infamous astronaut. From the Naval Aviator to the X-15 test pilot and further through Gemini and his history-making Apollo mission, Hansen gives the reader Armstrong the man – not just the First Man on the Moon, but equally important, Hansen humanizes Armstrong. In his life, Armstrong had inevitably entered mythology. But Hansen's personal rendering makes you not only appreciate Armstrong as a unique person, but also how excellent it was that an overall competent pilot, but self-destructive man, ended up with the perfect choice to become the first man to set foot on the moon . It was a responsibility – and a burden – that Armstrong brought with grace for the rest of his life. This book is the basis for the 2018 biopic of the same name.

… and the misses

Every genre, every subject has its classics and its clunkers, and Apollo is no exception. But there are two books that are so terribly written, so have gone wrong and misinterpreted that they are fighting for the dubious difference in worst space history ever written.

They are:

Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson. Viking, 2009.

Forget about the five-star reviews on Amazon: Rocket Men is the worst room history ever published. Nelson packs so many erroneous errors as what a reviewer called "techno-babble" in his account of Apollo 11, wondering how such a train wreck of a book could ever have passed his editors, much less fact pieces.

Howlers in Nelson's mangled account has become legendary: Neil Armstrong signed 4,000 hours in X-15? (Doing math on one: a 10-minute X-15 flight divided into 4,000 hours equals 24,000 flights to a program that flew a total of 199 times.) Or his amazing description of the first Saturn V launch, where " two F -1 motors abruptly interrupted during lifting, "Saturn returned to the ground until the control system equalized it. I'm still waiting for the recordings of Saturn V to pull a loop-de-loop. The clueless list of errors goes on and on.

Needless to say, if Nelson's creepy account is your introduction to space history, your head is filled with nothing but misinformation. (For a more detailed criticism, see "Don't know much about the story: Setting the recording right on rocket men", Space Review, May 24, 2010.) Avoid at all costs unless it fulfills your sense of injury. (Note: Don't miss Nelson's Rocket Men with Robert Kurson's well-received 2018 account by Apollo 8, which inexplicably reuses the same title.)

For All Mankind by Harry Hurt III. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.

Hurtig's equally gloomy book adumbrates Nelson's for two full decades and is an equally obscure, missing account that leaves a knowledgeable reader to shake his head. Filled with incorrect dates, more erroneous errors and yes more techno-babble, it is disappointing as it was originally published as the companion book for the late Al Reinert's recognized documentary of the same name. How Reinert could have produced such a fantastic movie that still stays good today while Hurt's book is such a shambles is a literary mystery.

But it gets worse: The publisher is now planning to publish a new edition, "updated with a new introduction by the author", scheduled for release on July 16, Apollo 11 launch anniversary. Two like-minded colleagues, and I have repeatedly written to the publisher to celebrate the new edition. We have received no reply. It is uncertain whether this new edition will solve many errors or simply reprint them. Caveat emptor.

Bibliographic Note: Most of these titles are out of print, and many of OP's copy prices on Amazon or eBay have reached exorbitant levels. But all are held by public libraries all over the world. If your local library does not own a copy, ask them to order it for you on interlibrary loan.

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