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The Right Stuff [Paperback]

Tom Wolfe
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 30 2001
When the future began...

The men had it. Yeager. Conrad. Grissom. Glenn. Heroes ... the first Americans in space ... battling the Russians for control of the heavens ... putting their lives on the line.

The women had it. While Mr. Wonderful was aloft, it tore your heart out that the Hero's Wife, down on the ground, had to perform with the whole world watching ... the TV Press Conference: "What's in your heart? Do you feel with him while he's in orbit?"

The Right Stuff. It's the quality beyond bravery, beyond courage. It's men like Chuck Yeager, the greatest test pilot of all and the fastest man on earth. Pete Conrad, who almost laughed himself out of the running. Gus Grissom, who almost lost it when his capsule sank. John Glenn, the only space traveler whose apple-pie image wasn't a lie.

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Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."

Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne.

Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

“An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death ... magnificent.”
People

“It is Tom Wolfe at his very best ... technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic — The Right Stuff is superb.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Breathtaking ... epic ... There are images and ideas in The Right Stuff that glisten like a rocket screaming to the heavens.”
Los Angeles Times

“Romantic and thrilling ... One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.”
The Boston Globe

“It’s magic ... the best book I have read in the last ten years.”
Chicago Tribune


Also by Tom Wolfe:

The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
From Bauhaus to Our House
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
The Painted Word
The Right Stuff
Mauve Gloves & Madmen
Clutter & Vine
In Our Time
The Pumphouse Gang
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

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First Sentence
Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Stuff Sept. 9 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A terrific look back at an America made innocent through fear of the Soviet challenge in space and rendered jaded by its own triumphs.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read to understand the start of space flight April 11 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There was a time when space flight launch and missions were covered on live TV not a 30 second clip at the end of the news. I read this book when it first came out. I bought this book for my son-in-law after we toured NASA and Cape Canaveral. The book is a must read to understand the NASA program and the type of men that lead the way to space.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Zenith of American Culture June 17 2004
Format:Paperback
My boss lent me this book in about 1982. He also had just invited me to become a member of the Southern California Soaring Club (gliders). For me, it was the most important and inspiring book of its decade. As a kid, the astronauts were, to me, mythic figures who risked their lives to prove what we were worth as Americans. Several of them died in the process. The space race was not some society social. These guys embodied what President Kennedy said, that "...We do not do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard." That, to me, epitomizes the meaning of the term, The Right Stuff. Kennedy's statement resonated with me at the age of nine. Tom Wolfe's book brought me down from the clouds right to ground zero. All the faults and foibles of the astronauts, and the process of becoming one, grabbed me as incredibly real and authentic. It also convinced me that heroes often don't have names like Smith and Jones. And they all don't look like Gregory Peck. And that their wives sacrificed so much, and kept their best face forward, where others would have collapsed under the weight. It is also an incredibly funny book (the red boots, and other anecdoetes).
This is inspiring nonfiction of the highest order. It was the near prospect of imminent death that brought it all together. They were modern samurai. It was a huge gamble, and we all went for it. Other reviewers have commented elequently on Tom Wofle's prodigious writing talent, so I will leave it there. Bottom line, you can count on one hand novels that captured the full depth and breadth of intense emotion that surrounded the space race of the 1960s. Particularly in the late 70s and early 80s. Jim Lovell's Lost Moon is a good example.
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Format:Paperback
"The Right Stuff" BY Tom Wolfe's book was a wonderful American story about the Mercury space program that told the tale of U.S. pilots just brimming with gusto, bravado and...the right stuff.
STEVEN TRAVERS
AUTHOR OF "BARRY BONDS: BASEBALL'S SUPERMAN"
STWRITES@AOL.COM
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff May 9 2004
Format:Paperback
Although Tom Wolfe's way of writing may seem strange and at times weird, the story of these test pilots and pioneer astronauts is a classic. Beginning with the stories of pilots like Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier, the book develops into the grand drama that was the space program and the race against the Soviets to the new frontier, chronicaling the pilots who took such great risk in participating in it. If you liked the movie, you'll love the book. A great work that I highly recommend to all readers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another page-turning book May 7 2004
Format:Paperback
Hey, I stayed up way to late reading this book our national effort to win the space race. Included in this book is the contributions of the pilots from Joshua treed, dusty desert base called Edwards including the greatest pilot of them all. Read the book and you'll find out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time favorite books... July 4 2003
Format:Paperback
This book is just a thoroughly enjoyable read. Funny, exciting, charming, moving; what more could you want? It does certainly personalize the astronauts, but I do not agree that it cuts these heroes down to size, as some other reviewers have suggested. On the contrary, Mr. Wolfe's theme is that these men really are heroes, albeit thoroughly human ones. He does, however, let us know that there are a lot of other men out there who are just as heroic, without the acclaim. Don't miss this one!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Six star entertainment June 18 2003
By Brad4d
Format:Paperback
Tom Wolfe gives a brilliantly entertaining and inspirational book about one of the most colorful chapters in recent American history -- from the first supersonic piloted flight up to the early Sixties, when astronauts completed the beginning of America's space program. Wolfe writes about "the right stuff--" a blend of correct judgment, coolness, and the ability to get the job done, no matter what the danger. Wolfe rarely depends on technical stuff, so the book will appeal to those who know or care little about aviation or space, and there's little to deter the squeamish, ither. The author shows the period's bright side (the accomplishments in spite of the danger, the dopamine-flowing release after a job well-done, the intense exhilaration of it all) , and the dark side (the fears of the families, the tragic deaths from minor lapses in luck or judgment, the tedious egomania of many involved in the programs).
This book epitomizes the bright and dark side of Wolfe's school of writing, too. Above all, Wolfe can be as riveting and as entertaining as you'll find -- "truth can be funnier than fiction." I have heard how Wolfe caught the essence of what someone wanted to say even better than the one who said it, and he sure puts you into the thick of the action. The author gives a legitimate and interesting perspective. Nevertheless, this style plays heavily on your emotions, with all the problems that can involve, and the book is not terribly objective -- a purely entertaining incident can assume more importance than it should.
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