Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth Paperback – Aug 8 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Between 1969 and 1972, 12 men traveled a quarter-million miles to the moon and returned safely. In this powerful, intimate story, journalist Smith sets out to find these men and discover how that experience changed their lives. Smith, a boy living in a nondescript California subdivision at the time of the Apollo missions and caught up in the endless possibility of space flight, journeys to the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and the backwoods of Texas in search of these mythical figures of American know-how. He finds Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, still cool and confident, a plainspoken man who never let on how close that mission came to disaster. In Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, he finds an imperious, driven, highly successful businessman. If all of the men share one affliction, it's fame. Once at the center of the world's attention, these mostly ordinary men with some extraordinary gifts and luck have lived their lives being asked the same question—What was it like "up there"? In an artful blend of memoir and popular history, Smith makes flesh-and-blood people out of icons and reveals the tenderness of his own heart.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Splendid!” (Arthur C. Clarke, author 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY)
“Moondust is an inspired idea, immaculately executed: witty, affectionate, completely captivating.” (WORD magazine)
“Highly entertaining…[Smith’s] superb book is a fitting tribute to a unique band of 20th-century heroes.” (GQ)
“Fascinating…We know what happened inside the Apollo, but what went on inside the astronauts’ minds? Extremely thought-provoking.” (J. G. Ballard, author of Empire of the Sun and Memories of the Space Age)
“[A] fascinating book… [Smith’s] humour is underpinned by a sense of extreme danger.” (Mail on Sunday, Book of the Week (four stars))
“A rich mix of cultural history, reportage and personal reflection.” (Evening Standard)
“Forget flower power, the Beatles and Beach Boys…what made the 1960s an unforgettable decade was the conquest of space.” (The Guardian, Best Books of the Season)
“A crisply dramatic account.” (Sunday Telegraph)
“An extraordinary book…as profoundly as any work of philosophy.” (Uncut (UK), four stars)
“A wonderful collective biography written with deftness, compassion and humour.” (The Observer)
‘Utterly gripping. Smith is both sympathetic and bracingly unsentimental.” (Daily Mail (London))
‘Enthralling...Smith is an ideal narrator: sharp-eyed yet increasingly affectionate about his subjects.” (Financial Times)
“Riveting...so vivid you can almost smell the suburban lawns.” (Time Out London)
“Spellbinding…a provocative meditation on lunar travel and humanity’s relation to space.” (Business Week)
“A wild ride swerving between then and now.” (Richmond Times Dispatch)
“Smith’s book succeeds…because he bungee-cords together so many intriguing digressions.” (New York Times)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This set Smith on a course to interview the remaining Apollo astronauts, seeking to learn how their lives had changed because of the experience. This book is a remarkable statement of the lives of this elite group of Americans. Some remain household names, such as Neil Armstrong, who has carried his celebrity experience with both dignity and honor. Many are unknown to all except the space community. Some are garrulous and easy to talk to, others are aloof and guarded. Smith found that all were fundamentally changed by the Apollo experience.
Smith's discussion of Buzz Aldrin was especially fascinating. He spent considerable time with Aldrin and talked with him about his life, work, and dreams. Since returning to Earth on Apollo 11 Aldrin struggled with alcoholism, a divorce, and an unending desire to open the space frontier. He has constantly sought to find ways to continue his status as a leader in the spaceflight world. At a fundamental level, we learn in "Moondust," Aldrin was like so many other true believers in space exploration. Apollo and its promise of humanity moving out into the solar system excited him. Aldrin was the epitome of Smith's quote from journalist Jim Oberg, "A lot of guys at NASA thought that the goal was space exploration and colonisation of the Universe, and they all had their hearts broken" (p. 296). Political leaders enthused spaceflight advocates with Apollo only to "pull the rug out from under them." Those who believe that humanity's future lies in space, such as Aldrin, have spent the last thirty years trying to deal with some believe was a betrayal.
Most interesting, Andrew Smith offers observations on the role of Apollo in the modern world. He wrote that "Apollo seems to me to be the most perfect imaginable expression, embodiment, symbol, of the twentieth century's central contradiction: namely, that the more we put our faith in reason and its declared representatives, that the more irrational our world became" (p. 295). As only one example among many, he noted that our science and technology has made our lives more abundant than ever but our dissatisfaction has never been greater. "It's a cautionary tale about that most fundamentally human of human tragedies," he writes, "wanting something so badly that you end up destroying it" (p. 295). For Smith, the success of Apollo "killed `manned' deep-space exploration, stone dead, for at least the next dour decades and probably many more" (p. 295).
Finally, Smith comments on the reason for undertaking Apollo. What was the United States trying to prove? Certainly it was a cold war initiative; a surrogate for war. But beyond that, he finds an answer in the motives of John Kennedy. "JFK wanted something to capture the global imagination, and to excite his own people, and he found it" (p. 297). Smith asserts that any discussion of the practical results of Apollo are irrelevant because it was never about practicality. Astronaut Joseph Allen said it best in a comment reported in "Moondust": "With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the Moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact be the one important reason" (p. 297). As Smith concludes, "For all of Apollo's technological wonder, it was as primitive as song. It meant nothing. And everything....Was Apollo worth all the effort and expense? If it had been about the Moon, the answer would be no, but it wasn't, it was about the Earth. The answer is yes" (pp. 297-98).
There is much to ponder in this book. It may be read on several levels. There are interesting and entertaining stories from the astronauts and what they have been doing since the end of Apollo. There are observations on spaceflight-past, present, and future. But there are also efforts to situate the Apollo program into the larger rubric of modern society and to understand its relationship to humanity as it stands at the threshold of the twenty-first century. Some of what Smith writes is depressing, as in the case of the lost promise that was Apollo. Some of it is exhilarating because of what Apollo taught humanity about itself. All of it is worth considering.
Moondust is a remarkable book. I read at least a book a week (I'm also an author), and Moondust is probably the best book I've read in two years. Really!
However, if you are a techno weenie looking for minutia on Apollo, do yourself the favor and don't read this book. And if you are an Apollo technical buff and you do read it, please don't write a whiney review lamenting the technical details. This is not a technical book and it is not for you.
I originally picked this book up because like many people my age, I was transfixed by Apollo as a kid (I was nine years old when Apollo 11 went up). I also happen to share a name with Apollo 15 moonwalker David Scott which in elementary school was a weird sort of fame. (I remember watching with my classmates at an assembly when the helicopter was picking up Scott after splashdown and he was dunked in the water. The TV announcer said "it looks like David Scott got wet" which provided all sorts of hilarity for weeks among my peers.)
But like Smith, Apollo had kind of faded into memory as an almost surreal set of events for me. That he spent a year not only searching out what the moonmen themselves thought but also what HE thought, made Moondust remarkable for me. Thank you Andrew Smith for writing this.
One of the more open, refreshing, books I've read on Apollo to date. Thoroughly Enjoyable!
We follow Smith on a journey of discovery across America in search of the sometimes-elusive "moonwalkers." With persistence, dedication and luck, he eventually manages to interview Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Neil Armstrong (11), Alan Bean (12), Gene Cernan (17), Charlie Duke (16), Ed Mitchell (14), Jack Schmidt (17), Dave Scott (15) and John Young (16). What he found by talking with these men can't be summarized in a short review. It's the subject of the book itself, and an excellent reason to read it for anyone who's interested in something beyond the typical astronaut memoir.
The story of how the "moonwalkers" coped with their return to earth, and of the difficult psychological and emotional adjustments that they had to make when they realized that nothing they could possibly do in the future could ever top what they'd already done, is absolutely fascinating. For me, "Moondust" brought these larger-than-life explorers down to a level where I felt I could understand and relate to them as real people. As Smith correctly notes, when these nine men are gone, there will be NO ONE on earth who has ventured further from our fragile blue planet than a low-altitude orbit--a mere couple of hundred miles, as compared to the 240,000-mile lunar distance. There will be NO ONE on earth who has seen with his (or her) own eyes our home as a full sphere, glowing like a jewel against the blackness of infinity. An important part of the human race will die along with the last Apollo moonwalker.
So "Moondust" is well worth a read, and I heartily recommend it. It has a few technical errors, as do many other spaceflight books. The Apollo project is one of the best-documented events in human history, and yet many authors still get it wrong when they try to describe the technology that got us to the moon and back. While "Moondust" is not nearly as bad as "For All Mankind" or "Too Far From Home," it still has some errors. But I won't belabor the point, since the book is otherwise so excellent.
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