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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon [Large Print] [Hardcover]

Craig Nelson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2009 Thorndike Nonfiction
This is a pilgrimage into the unknown. On 20 July 1969, man set foot on the moon. Motivated by politics, faith, science and wonder, the Apollo 11 mission was the greatest technical achievement of all time. It was the culmination of over a decade's worth of money and effort from more than 400,000 staff and crew. "Rocket Men" follows the astounding story of the lunar project, beginning at its inception at the start of the Cold War and tracing it through to its finest hour with the first moon landing and the astronauts' safe return. Through extensive interviews with astronauts, NASA staff and their families and never-before published documents, Craig Nelson presents an awe-inspiring human account of the voyage that changed the course of history. He takes us behind the scenes at Mission Control to describe every detail of the mission, from the astronauts' moon excursion suits, which had five hundred parts and weighed no less than fifty pounds, to terrifying revelations, such as how Armstrong and Aldrin could have been left stranded on the moon when a vital switch snapped on the landing craft. "Rocket Men" is the inside story of one of the most perilous and rewarding undertakings in history.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"* 'I was there, kneeling, unable to breathe, before a television screen, watching Armstrong step off Eagle onto the regolith. I read [Rocket Men] in the same mood of boyhood wonder. So should you' - Sunday Times * 'Rocket Men is particularly good at unpicking the tangle of motives behind kennedy's decision to send a man to the moon...A punchy, popular history...gripping, geekily detailed accounts of what it was like to ride a Satum V or walk on another planet are interspersed with an equally lively take on the cold war strategising behind the mission' - Financial Times * 'Anyone with an ounce of poetry in their soul would have to concede that reaching the moon really was a giant leap for mankind. For the sheer drama, majesty and improbability of it all, it's a story that will be told time and time again. But rarely as well as this' - The Sunday Business Post * 'Spectacular' - Vanity Fair * 'With Nelson's impeccable research, his ability to tie the myriad strings of the space race into a coherent whole and the power of the story itself, Rocket Men should be at the top of your book list' - New Scientist" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Craig Nelson is the author of The First Heroes and Thomas Paine, which won the 2007 Henry Adams Prize for the year's best book on history and government. His writing has appeared in many publications and he has been profiled in Variety, Interview, Publishers Weekly and Time Out. He lives in Greenwich Village, New York. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
"This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." -- Acts 18:25-26 (NKJV)

A major event such as the Apollo 11 mission deserves a careful history that's improved by the careful vetting that can only occur through many years of careful research. Unfortunately, this book had the vision to create such a book . . . but didn't do the work to get the details correct. So there's a lot of bizarre material in the book that must be there because of superficial research without capable fact-checking.

The big picture part of the story works pretty well, but the detailed picture isn't so pretty.

The storytelling also gets bogged down in details that don't add much to the story other than tedium.

I don't recommend that you read this book unless you have no reason to get all of the facts right. I doubt that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  76 reviews
73 of 79 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but full of errors Aug. 25 2009
By Jason Godfrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I saw in one of the reviews that in 40 years this book will be the book everyone turns to. I hope not, because that means there will be a lot of misinformed people in 40 years.

There are some good things about this book. It is an entertaining read. It provides context to events that is helpful. It also includes stories I hadn't heard before, which is refreshing. The problem is the book is full of errors, some showing a basic lack of understanding of the subject matter. It gets so bad I'm left wondering what in the book I can actually trust.

If you are new to the subject and want a good book to read, I recommend either Chris Kraft's or Gene Cernan's books.

I'll give it two stars since it is an enjoyable read.

Here is some errors I can think of off the top of my head. (I didn't want to put them in my main review.) It's not a complete list:
* Stating Gene Cernan was commander of Apollo 15, instead of 17
* A completely wrong description of what Max-Q is
* Confusing escape velocity and orbital speed.
* Calling the landing radar PGNS (which makes sense, since it is pronounced PINGS, but wrong)
* Stating that Armstrong used the Abort Guidance System to land, since he had to maneuver around some boulders. It wasn't.

That's just a few, and you may ask what the big deal with them is. The problem is that they are so pervasive it destroys the credibility of the author.
89 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A riveting read marred by bizarre misinformation July 18 2009
By Otto Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is entertaining, imaginatively structured, and packed with information. Unfortunately, it's also riddled with errors. Some are just bizarre. On page 194, author Craig Nelson describes the first flight of the Saturn 5 in 1967, and he seems to have fallen into a parallel universe where the mission was a near disaster, instead of the "success on all accounts" described in Roger Bilstein's "Stages of Saturn" (accessible online). Here is what Nelson has to say: "On November 9 at 0700 EST, Apollo 4 launched. Two F-1 rockets abruptly quit during liftoff, at which the stack pulled a U-turn and headed screaming back at the ground. But the guidance system righted the vehicle, and the CM dummy capsule was successfully put into orbit." There are so many things wrong with that passage that it's hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say that everything about the performance of the rocket is incorrect and could not possibly have happened as described. It shows a basic misunderstanding of the fundamentals of the subject, which Nelson displays over and over. Take his "essential formula for rocketry" on page 96: "combine liquid fuel, oxygen (for added power and to operate in a vacuum), and a flame to trigger an explosion of gases...." There are four errors: the fuel can be, and often is, solid; the oxidizer is not for "added power," it's indispensible for a reaction to occur at all (leaving aside the special case of a monopropellant); some propellants ignite without a flame (for example, in the CM and LM); finally, it's not an explosion. This is not nitpicking; it's rocketry 101. Later in this passage, Nelson calls liquid hydrogen an oxidizer (it's a fuel). Such sloppy writing occurs throughout the book, which obviously was not checked by relevant experts. Still, I think it deserves more than one star. I give it three because Nelson has told a familiar story in a fresh way, and he's assembled a kind of "greatest hits" from Apollo memoirs and oral histories. It's a good read, but let the reader beware!
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For those who dismiss the technical inaccuracies as irrelevant.. Feb. 18 2010
By Stargazer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have to say, the author CHOSE to write about an event which is intensely tied to technology. It is also a real event in history. If accuracy in the essential technological aspects is not important to Mr. Nelson, as a person writing history, he has made a poor choice of subject matter. If you purport to write history, there exists an obligation to do your research! Betraying the fact that he didn't, apparently, bother to research or have the technical aspects proofread, tells me that Nelson isn't committed to accuracy, and that is a cardinal sin for a historian!

That begs the question: What basis does this sloppy approach give me for believing that anything else, including the non-technical, presented in this work as fact is accurately portrayed?

I agree that there are engaging passages, and sometimes an interesting and unusual slant on events, but if you want an engaging, ACCURATE account of Apollo 11, read Mike Collin's "Carrying the Fire" (he really is the most literate of the moon voyagers, and the most dryly humorous) , or for the project as a whole through the eyes of the astronauts, Andrew Chaikin's superb "A Man on the Moon". "Rocket Men" is for me an interesting approach that needs a major overhaul to become a decent book.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This Auhor Doesn't Have A Clue Jan. 11 2010
By Thomas J. Frieling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I received this book as a Christmas present, so at least it wasn't my money wasted on it.

I can only say that after reading the other Amazon reviews here and doing a little thumbing through this book, my preliminary assessment is this author doesn't really know a damned thing about his subject.

One only has to read his account on page 194 of the first Saturn V launch (Apollo 4)to understand the absolute cluelessness that this author has for his subject.

And I quote: "Two F-1 rockets abruptly quit during liftoff, at which the stack pulled a U-turn and headed screaming back at the ground. But the guidance system righted the vehicle..."

The next sentence goes on to describe the equally "trouble-filled" Apollo 5 launch in which two engines on the three stage vehicle died.

There is so much wrong concentrated into these two sentences it's hard to know where to start to untangle the mess and inaccuracy the author packs in here:

1) The first Saturn V launch was virtually flawless. Two of its F-1 engines did NOT quit (no F-1 engine ever failed in any Saturn V launch--65 engines launched, 65 flawless performances over thirteen Saturn V launches).

2) No Saturn V could have made a "U-turn" in flight and come screaming back at the ground. If it had, the vehicle would have broken up under the aerodynamic stresses of doing a loop-de-loop.

3) Apollo 5 was also a perfect launch--it was a two stage Saturn 1B launch that placed an unmanned LEM into low earth orbit for testing. It was not, as the author states, a three stage vehcle, on which "two of its engines died...which would have carried the craft to the moon."

Apollo 5 was intended to test he LEM in low earth orbit, not the moon, and it did so as planned.

What the author is tangling up here is the story of Apollo 6--the second test of the Saturn V in April, 1968. On that troubled flight, the Saturn V did indeed loose two engines. But they were two J-2 engines on the second stage, not first stage F-1 engines. Even then the guidance system worked--the vehicle did not make a "U-turn" but headed successfully into orbit. The third stage J-2 engine failed to re-ignite but even so the CM payload was not intended to go to the moon.

If this tangled, warped, totally inaccurate account can pack so much wrong into two consecutive sentances, I can only wonder what else wrong is out there in nearly 350 pages of narrative. It'll be fun to see and I can report back. But I suspect this book will overtake, as some other reviewers have already noted, the record for errors per page density of the pathetically fact-challenged For All Mankind by Harry Hurt.

Tom Frieling
University of Georgia Libraries
tfrielin@uga.edu

ADDENDUM--I posted this yesterday(1/16/2010--below) to the Author's Discussion page of Amazon's 'about the author page' yesterday. But today, I see the link has been taken down. Don't know why, but given the apparent plans for a paperback edition of this book, I hope the publishers will run the book by some knowledgable fact-checkers to expunge the errors and to correct errors of interpretaion, both of which would vastly improve this book. TJF

Thomas J. Frieling says:
It's really a sorry sight to read this author's posts defending his indefensible errors and just general mis-understandings of his subject.

Sadly, this book joins a long line of error-riddled space books like Hurt's For All Mankind, the notorious Cambridge Encyclopedia of Space, and Reynolds Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon to name just a few. Does the author's publisher employ no copy editors? Do they not fact-check manuscripts? Evidently not.

I reviewed space books for seventeen years for Library Journal and in that time saw far too many sloppily produced books that a copy editor and a knowledgeable fact-checker could have saved, just as this book could have been saved.

The irritating thing is how easy it is to fact-check space-related books. Just to give one example:

In the author's account of the launch of Apollo 11 he quotes from the mission transcript that Armstrong says "Skirts up" at the 3:13 mark and the Capcom dutifully replies, "Roger, skirts up'".

This cryptic exchange leaves the reader to ponder "Skirt? What skirt? And why is the skirt up? Aren't they wearing space suits, not skirts? WTF is this skirt thing supposed to mean?"

The author offers no explanation.

But all a puzzled and curious reader would have to do is Google "Apollo 11 Mission Transcript" and scroll down to the three minute, thirteen second part to learn that Armstrong really said "Skirt sep"; i.e., he was reporting the separation of the S-II stage interstage, also referred to as the aft skirt. That's that big ring that separates from the S-II stage about thirty seconds after S-II ignition and is what you see in that oft-shown footage from the on-board cameras (go to You Tube and type in "Saturn V S-II stage separation" to watch it yourself).

It's that easy to get the facts straight.

I was sorry to see that a paperback edition is planned, but if that's the case I beg the publisher to run the book by a couple of fact-checkers--maybe the posters to this discussion--so the errors can be expunged from this book.

Thomas J. Frieling
University of Georgia
tfrielin@uga.edu

Addendum #2 (May 7, 2010) I just posted this to the Author's Discussion page. For any serious space history buffs out there who hoped the author would follow through on his promise to correct the many factual errors when the paperback edition came out will be sorely disappointed. I just bought he paperback and practically nothing of any consequence was fixed. The paperback is as thouroughly error-riddled as the hardback, plus all the mis-interpretations, non sequiters, and general mis-understandings of the subject are in there too. Sad, really.

On Nov 12, 2009, Craig Nelson posted on this discussion page:

"For all of you who've made efforts to point out specific errors in Rocket Men, thank you so much. I've spent almost a month tracking down and making corrections, and unfortunately they could not be included in the most recent hardcover printing, but they will appear in the paperback in June 2010. - Craig Nelson"

Well, I just bought the paperback edition and thumbed through it, comparing it to the error-riddled hardback edition and I have to say that very, very little effort evidentally was made to fix the many errors in this paperback edition as Nelson promised above.

I found a total of two fixes--both minor compared to the howlers that are still in this train wreck of a book: On page page 148 of the paperback, "miles per second" is changed to "meters per second" in the account of MR-2. I'll have to do the math to see if this change makes the account accurate. The one other change on page 199 fixes the typo about Apollo 8 being launched in 1948. The copy editor or the crack fact checker did some heavy lifting changing 1948 to the correct 1968. Big whoop.

But all the other howlers in the book? ALL still in there in the supposedly "fixed" paperback edition.

That the X-15 was aerotowed like a sailplane? Still in there.

That Armstrong logged over four thousand hours in the X-15? Still in there.

The totally bollixed up account of the first Saturn V launch losing two F-1 engines and pulling a u-turn followed in the very next sentance with an equally mixed up account of Apollo 5? Still in there.

The confused acccount of the Lunar Orbit Insertion burn? Still in there.

Armstrong quoted as saying "Skirts up" instead of "Skirt sep"? Still in there.

The mis-representation of exactly when Aldrin used the felt tip pen to arm the broken circuit breaker (Nelson's account leads the reader to believe this was done the moment before lunar liftoff is wrong. No less an expert than Eric Jones of ALSJ fame confirmed to me that Aldrin used the pen on the breaker at least two hours before liftoff). Still in there.

In short, nothing of substance was fixed in this paperback edition--it is just as bad a history of Apollo 11 as the hardback edition was.

The real scandal here is the fact that Rocket Men got glowing reviews in the mainstream press (irritating excerpts of the reviews, of course, included in the front of this edition).

Something is terribly wrong with the publishing vetting process, and especially, the book reviewing process whereby people who are not subject experts are asked to write reviews that result in badly written books like this one garnering rave reviews. So far, I have come across only one review (in the Journal of American History) that recognized that this book was full of errors and mis-interpretations of the history of Apollo.

All I can say is thank God for the Internet and Amazon.com reviewers who have made an effort to set the record straight about this pathetic faux history.

Thomas J. Frieling
University of Georgia Libraries
tfrielin@uga.edu

P.S. I just double-checked and that crowd pleasing howler about the astronauts' visors being gold plated so in case they encountered aliens on the moon, the aliens would't be able to peer in at the astronauts' faces? Yeah, that's still in there too!
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible book, but great info in the negative reviews Sept. 15 2009
By M. Gleason - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While the book is absolutely terrible, I did learn a lot by reading the corrections of fact listed in the other reviews!
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