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Sputnik: The Shock of the Century [Large Print] [Hardcover]

Paul Dickson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 2002 Thorndike American History
On October 4, 1957, as Leave It to Beaver premiered on American television, the Soviet Union launched the space age. Sputnik, all of 184 pounds with only a radio transmitter inside its highly polished shell, became the first man-made object in space; while it immediately shocked the world, its long-term impact was even greater, for it profoundly changed the shape of the twentieth century.
In his upcoming book, Washington journalist Paul Dickson chronicles the dramatic events and developments leading up to and emanating from Sputnik's launch. Supported by groundbreaking, original research and many recently declassified documents, Sputnik offers a fascinating profile of the early American and Soviet space programs and a strikingly revised picture of the politics and personalities behind the facade of America's fledgling efforts to get into space.

Although Sputnik was unmanned, its story is intensely human. Sputnik owed its success to many people, from the earlier visionary, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, whose theories were ahead of their time, to the Soviet spokesmen strategically positioned around the world on the day the satellite was launched, who created one of the greatest public-relations events of all time. Its chief designer, however—the brilliant Sergei Korolev—remained a Soviet state secret until after his death.

Equally hidden from view was the political intrigue dominating America's early space program, as the military services jockeyed for control and identity in a peacetime world. For years, former Nazi Wernher von Braun, who ran the U.S. Army's missile program, lobbied incessantly that his Rocket Team should be handed responsibility for the first Earth-orbiting satellite. He was outraged that Sputnik beat him and America into space. For his part, President Eisenhower was secretly pleased that the Russians had launched first, because by orbiting over the United States Sputnik established the principle of "freedom of space" that could justify the spy satellites he thought essential to monitor Soviet missile buildup. As Dickson reveals, Eisenhower was, in fact, much more a master of the Sputnik crisis than he appeared to be at the time and in subsequent accounts.

The U.S. public reaction to Sputnik was monumental. In a single weekend, Americans were wrenched out of a mood of national smugness and post-war material comfort. Initial shock at and fear of the Soviets' intentions galvanized the country and swiftly prompted innovative developments that define our world today. Sputnik directly or indirectly influenced nearly every aspect of American life, from the demise of the suddenly superfluous tail fin and an immediate shift towards science in the classroom to the arms race that defined the cold war, the competition to reach the Moon, and the birth of the Internet.

By shedding new light on a pivotal era, Paul Dickson expands our knowledge of the world we now inhabit, and reminds us that the story of Sputnik goes far beyond technology and the beginning of the space age, and that its implications are still being felt today.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Dickson (The Electronic Battlefield) chronicles in detail the Soviet satellite Sputnik. The Soviet Union was propelled into international prominence on October 4, 1957, by becoming the first nation to successfully launch a satellite, beating the American program by several months. The Soviet spacecraft panicked Americans, who constantly looked up into the sky, spoke in hushed tones and feared that the satellite presaged an atomic attack. President Eisenhower remained calm and tried to lead the country through the media-generated crisis, but the Sputnik "debacle" helped the Democrats in the next election. Dickson chronicles the history of rocket research, including Nazi successes during WWII. American and Soviet troops vied to seize German scientists and hardware. Dickson examines the feuding between the services for control of the space program and candidly exposes the reasons for the lag in American research. Eisenhower gets high marks for his quiet mastery of the situation, pleased that the Soviets were first into space, since that set off a race to improve American education, even as it fueled an outbreak of UFO hysteria. Dickson, whose bibliography runs to 19 pages, completely understands the lure and lore of Sputnik and has done a solid job of synthesizing prior books on the subject.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Space exploration is often portrayed as a U.S.-U.S.S.R. race, with the Soviet Union winning the initial lap by launching Sputnik, the earth's first artificial satellite. Yet as Dickson (The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary) reveals, for the United States, the race was also an internal competition, with the military (particularly Wernher von Braun's rocket team) and the Eisenhower administration grappling for control of the national space program. Eisenhower, who sought to demilitarize space and thereby open the skies to U.S. espionage satellites, eventually triumphed, establishing NASA as a civilian agency and successfully testing a clandestine satellite launch. Focusing on internal rivalries and including pre-Sputnik material, Dickson's book complements Robert A. Divine's The Sputnik Challenge (LJ 3/1/93), which considers the aftermath of Sputnik; James Killian's personal Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (LJ 1/15/78. o.p.); and the scholarly Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic, 2000; also issued as NASA Technical Memorandum 113448). For public and academic libraries. Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars No cited sources, written by a journalist? Jan. 6 2003
As a historian of the space race I have read a good deal about the space program. This book is nowhere on my top list of choices. The text of the book contains no citations to sources, you are supposedly directed to the 18 page bibliography to determine where the author got his information. With some of the questionable things stated in this book, I would like to read the appropriate source, or at least know if it came from a book, magazine, or dinner side chat with an uncle.
If you know nothing of the early days of the space program, this book does an adequate job of filling you in. However, if you know anything about this period you will find little of interest. The author is, after all, not a space historian, nor did he have an active part in the space age. The author is described in the book jacket as an investigative reporter. I would not recommend this book for someone seriously interested in the history of the space program, US or Soviet.
This book contains surprisingly little about Sputnik.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A good topic but questionable facts Nov. 1 2002
By mx5mike
As a longtime space buff, I looked forward to reading this book about an event that happened before I was born. I found two factual errors that unfortunately left me questioning the authenticity of other facts in the book.
On page 41, the book reads "In 1968, as Apollo 11 lifted off for the Moon..." and on page 236 it states "When the space shuttle was first launched in 1982..." These events, of course, happened in 1969 and 1981, and rank among the most important space events ever (along with Sputnik's launch, certainly). How these two dates could be incorrect makes me just a little skeptical that other things I read in the book might just be a little off as well. What if a book on early US history listed Jefferson as the 4th President?
I really wanted to like this book, and altough it tended to be a little dry at times, I found many interesting stories and details, but two blatant factual inaccuracies that made it past however many people they made it past before the book's printing left me a little wary of the rest of the content. I don't want to malign the entirety of the author's work for what might be no more than typos, but I just could not get past those two.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Capturing the Essence of an Era Jan. 25 2002
I would like to congratulate Paul Dickson on an outstanding presentation of one of the most complex and exciting events in world history. His research is meticulous but the following corrections should be consideration in subsequent printings:
1. Page 106 describes the R-7: "...the ground shook as no fewer than thirty-two rocket boosters thundered with 200,000 pounds of thrust.

The R-7 actually has 4 engines in each of five "packets" for a total of 20 primary engines thrusting at launch. The other 12 engines were relatively low thrust "verniers" responsible for pitch, roll, and final velocity control. Each of the primary thrust chambers provided 56,000 pounds of thrust for a total of 1,120,000 pounds.
2. Page 106 states: "The three stage rocket..."
The R-7 configuration for the first three Sputniks was essentially a 1  stage rocket. All engines ignited at liftoff. When the four outer packets depleted their fuel, they were released leaving the central core to continue thrusting to orbital speed. There were no upper stages at this point.
3. Page 107 states: "Ninety-six minutes and seventeen seconds later, Sputnik passed over its launchpad with its transmitter sending out a beeping noise that blared from Baikonur's loudspeakers."
Because of the earth's rotation, the launch site moves east several hundred miles (about 1000 miles per hour at the equator diminishing proportionally at the higher latitudes.) so subsequent orbital passes are offset. Sputnik could not have over flown its launch site at the end of its first orbit.
4. Page 181 states: "On March 23... the 30.66 pound Explorer III went aloft...".
The correct date is March 26.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Shock, Fear, Challenge, Mistakes and Successes! Dec 11 2001
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
To date in my life there have been just a few events that caused me to sit back and rethink everything. The earliest of those events was the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. The latest was September 11, 2001. In between, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson's decision not to seek re-election, and Watergate had large impacts.
Reviewing those events now, the Sputnik launch clearly had the largest impact. I was already space crazy, and had been following the plans for launching satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year with great interest. I had a photograph of the Vanguard rocket in my bedroom. I also knew that the Soviet Union planned a satellite, but assumed that it would come later than Vanguard. Then, pow! Sputnik is sailing around the globe, visible at sunrise and sunset. I also knew that even if we launched Vanguard the next day, it would be puny compared to Sputnik. Clearly, the Soviet Union was years ahead in space. How could that be?
Soon, the curriculum in my school was enriched with math and science and a lot of my friends decided to become engineers. Since I was good in both areas, there was a lot of pressure on me to do the same. Of the people with these talents, I was the only one who did not pursue a technical career or teaching science.
I was very impressed with this book because it captured the popular reaction to the event at the time, detailed the decisions that led up to the U.S. falling behind, and spells out what happened later (for good and bad). Although over 90 percent of what is in the book was known to me before, I found it helpful to see the pieces all put together in one place.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shock Is Still With Us
If you want an understanding of how the United States endede up as the 800-pound gorilla for the rest of the world, you should begin with Paul Dickson's meticulously researched and... Read more
Published on April 22 2003 by James L. Srodes
2.0 out of 5 stars Everything but Sputnik
If you're looking for a careful analysis of the development of Sputnik and its implications for Russian space science, skip this book. Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars excellently researched...detail detail detail
The author has spent many years searching for any reference no matter how small involving Sputnik. He links words like beatnik, vietnik, and refusenik to the influence of Sputnik. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2002 by Susan Gerbic
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting
This isn't really a book about Sputnik at all. Initially it's a history of rocketry and then it turns into a book about and American science and culture in the 50s and onwards. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2002 by sigfpe
5.0 out of 5 stars Oprah forget Jonathan Franzen.. put your stamp on this book!
I was 11 years old when Sputnik beeped across the sky and I stood with my father in our back yard, night after night, staring at the stars. It was a time full of wonder. Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2001 by Bonnie West
4.0 out of 5 stars Over Stating & Over Reacting to the Inevitable
Overall, Mr. Dickson has written a very readable book for a subject that could have very easily gotten lost in technologic trivial and minutia. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Sputnik is Still Flying
On 4 October 1957, the world woke up in the space age. The first artificial satellite (people were originally calling it an artificial moon) had been successfully launched by the... Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2001 by R. Hardy
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for President Bush and his advisers
Paul Dickson's "Sputnik" should definitely be read by President Bush, his advisers and staff. Read more
Published on Oct. 27 2001 by Robert Skole
5.0 out of 5 stars Nicely balanced
Dickson has captured the feeling of the moment; reported on the longer term consequences of Sputnik I for education, science, national defense and politics; and done it all with an... Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2001
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