on February 1, 2000
I read this book after reading the superior 'Dragonfly' by Bryan Burrough, and I was hoping that Burrough's stories of Jerry Linenger's monumental ego were false. Sadly, this book confirms them all- Linenger even admits it (though he says he is not the worst of the astronauts). Some of the opening chapters grate somewhat because of this, as Linenger describes just what an incredibly sucessful specimen of humanity he thinks he is. (For an example of this writing style, see the review he has posted on this page- how he says he is still amazed what a good book he has written every time he rereads it.)
Linenger's book does get really good, though, when he gets to MIR. The description of the onboard fire make the whole book worth reading- the bonechilling image Linenger gives is the best I have read, and Linenger's description of the extent and danger of the fire shows just how much it was played down elsewhere at the time. Linenger also gives a wonderful picture of the sheer hard work of life on MIR that Burrough and Colin Foale never quite get across in their books on the same theme.
So, in all, a great read. In some ways, though, I hope it sells badly. Linenger needs the wind knocked out of his sails a bit.
on February 17, 2001
It was all I could do to finish this book. I nearly stopped in the middle of the introduction because of the author's incessant egotistical blather. I have never read a more self aggrandizing biography in my life. I am sure that he is the only person interested in the number of doctoral degrees - honorary or otherwise - that he possesses or that he was good enough to win some medals and trophies in his age class in triathalons. Talk about an ugly American. In one breath he decries the abyssmal living conditions facing most Russian citizens and in the next he is complaining that the Russians had not completed his own "duplex" living quarters, palatial by comparison. It is no wonder he was not accepted by the Russians with open arms. Being an Astronaut, I always thought, was about accepting the enormous risks for the honor and thrill of it all and, as a by-product, making the world a better place. It certainly should not be to complain about the risks and then to try to line your own pockets. Obviously, astronauts need and do have healthy egos, but they should be inteligent enough to know how distasteful such an unmitigated display would appear in print. It is a wonder that they could find a helmet big enough to fit this guy
on January 17, 2001
What is it with this guy? Perhaps the answer comes from Bryan Burrough's book, "Dragonfly"(a must-read, if only as an antidote), which yields a far more balanced view of this self-centered egomaniac. While in astronaut training, Linenger's colleagues dubbed him "Hollywood", a name he richly deserves.
No, seriously, I don't question that riding Mir for five months took some heavy stones -- but why no kiss-and-tell books from Linenger's unfortunate Mir-mates? One gets the feeling they wish he'd just go away.
Dangers in space? Well, duh!! Linenger wants it both ways - the "aw shucks, t'ain't nothin'" veneer of a Chuck Yeager, with the recognition of a rock star and our endless appreciation for his "daring". What on earth (pardon the pun) did he expect? An airbone Hilton like the movie 2001? Throughout his odyssey, Linenger adopts the attitude of "what's in it for me?" rather than trying to find ways to contribute to the success of the mission. Gen-x space.
During his five months in orbit, Linenger blew off his ground support crew, antagonized his colleagues, and managed to fully live up to the stereotype of "ugly American."
This book is an embarassment...it's no wonder NASA began distancing itself from Linenger the minute his shuttle flight home touched down. Arguably, other Mir visitors (Michael Foale, in particular) had even hairer moments -- but they've accepted it as part of a very risky job, and not used it as a springboard to stardom. Foale is still on flying status -- Linenger is not. 'Nuff said.
It's interesting to note that most of the truly heroic astronauts(John Young - first shuttle flight, two Apollo flights, Neil Armstrong - first moon walker, Story Musgrave - two Hubble missions, including the repair mission) have shunned the spotlight, while the hacks (Buzz Aldrin, the Ed McMahon of astronauts, and Linenger himself) have tried to trade starlight for limelight.
on June 21, 2000
Indeed, it is a great story, and I relish the fact that thebook is a kiss and tell of sorts: divulging the truths that neitherthe soviet space agency or NASA for that matter would care to be told. The entire narrative, however, is weakened by this "aw shucks, I'm just son of simple folks who just wants to do well for my country and family" sentiment. When I pick up a book about an astronaut I'm frankly interested in the psychology of an over-achiever like Dr. Linenger as much as I'm interested in stories of space travel. You just don't bump into people like Jerry everyday, who seem blessed in every aspect of their life. A good biographer would find a few nuggets to make this guy seem less like a ken doll and more three dimensional. His writing, unfortunately, is not great. Whereas J. Krakauer's Into Thin Air is superbly written, creating suspense in every chapter describing the escalating crisis with candor and lucidity, Linenger's account is poorly organized and littered with embarrasing phrasing "we are really rocking and rolling!" and platitudes. While, he can add a "published author", hat to the many already on his rack at home, this book could have been so much better if someone else had written it. At least he can't do everything perfectly. END
on June 21, 2000
I read the letter the author wrote the amazon customers and was disappointed that he had not let a ghost writer do the writing. Indeed, it is a great story, and I relish the fact that the book is a kiss and tell of sorts: divulging the truths that neither the soviet space agency or NASA for that matter would care to be told. The entire narrative, however, is weakened by this "aw shucks, I'm just son of simple folks who just wants to do well for my country and family" sentiment. When I pick up a book about an astronaut I'm frankly interested in the psychology of an over-achiever like Dr. Linenger as much as I'm interested in stories of space travel. You just don't bump into people like Jerry everyday, who seem blessed in every aspect of their life. A good biographer would find a few nuggets to make this guy seem less like a ken doll and more three dimensional. His writing, unfortunately, is not great. Whereas J. Krakauer's Into Thin Air is superbly written, creating suspense in every chapter describing the escalating crisis with candor and lucidity, Linenger's account is poorly organized and littered with embarrasing phrasing "we are really rocking and rolling!" and platitudes. While, he can add a "published author" hat to the many already on his rack at home, this book could have been so much better if someone else had written it. At least he can't do everything perfectly.
on October 15, 2000
What a wasted opportunity. If Dr. Linenger could only have put aside his "mildy" egocentric personallity, and let someone else write this book--I wonder if an editor was even allowed a glance. Yeager, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos is a far superior read for someone interested in space pioneers. Too bad the services of someone like Mr. Janos were not employed. I believe everything Dr. Linenger wrote and yet the book had a very defensive tone. He cares too much about what other people think of him as evidenced by his endless rambling-on about how wonderfull he is. Somehow this encredible story comes across as a boring book.
on March 2, 2001
I wonder what political office or career that Dr Linenger has in mind. I found his book to be very self serving with little credit given to others. Obviously not a team player. "Dragonfly" is the better read and strikes a better balance.
on July 1, 2000
Jerry Linenger belongs in space -- the earth is not big enough to fit his ego. The book is pretty boring and repetitive. How many times do we have to be reminded that the shuttle orbits at 17,500 mph ! Most of the good stuff, Mir breakdowns, ground control politics, etc, takes only a few pages to describe. A lot of the rest is constant reminders of how highly Linenger thinks of himself interspersed with tired space cliches. Don't waste your money.
on July 19, 2001
The book has some interesting anecdotes about life on Mir, but Linengers ego and continuous whining about the Russian space program makes this quite a challenging read. Not recommended - get Dragonfly.
on March 5, 2002
"Off the Planet" is Jerry Linenger's memoir of the five months he spent aboard Mir, the Russian space station, but whether or not you will enjoy reading it depends entirely on how you get along with Linenger, a world-class contender in the Narcissism stakes.
While he claims his ego is only moderate compared with other jet jockeys, he is -- for once -- being modest. He believed early on that nothing is worth doing if it can't be done in public. He tells of watching the Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the moon and how he wants to be just like them, not for the adventure or thrill of exploration, but because of the attention they drew. When he was selected to join NASA, he didn't just phone his wife and say, "Honey, I'm in." No, he waited until just before their plane took off for their vacation and had one of the pilots make the announcement.
If you can set Linenger's ego aside for a moment -- and you know it would take a bulldozer and a couple sticks of gelignite to do it -- you'll find that he's written an excellent, richly-detailed account of his experiences in Russia and in space.
The U.S.-Russian joint effort came very close to being one of NASA's biggest failures. Originally designed to last five years, the station had been up for 11 and was literally falling apart. Warning alarms went off regularly. Hoses split, releasing antifreeze that the astronauts breathed. Devices broke down. There were numerous power failures. Garbage and broken equipment built up because there wasn't enough room in the spacecraft to get rid of it. Russian mission controllers lied to the astronauts about the dangers they were facing, berated them for failures that were not their fault, and treated the American astronauts like idiot step-children.
Then there were the life-threatening accidents. During Linenger's time aboard, a fire broke out in the equipment supplying oxygen. Despite the efforts of six men, it burned uncontrollably for over 15 minutes before putting itself out. Not only was no investigation held to determine its cause, but the Russians minimized the damage and blamed the astronauts. This censor-and-blame attitude wouldn't have been countenanced in NASA, but for the sake of U.S.-Russian relations, they went along with it. If the fire hadn't burned itself out, there would have been six dead men in space, and NASA Administrator Dan Goldin would have been held responsible for putting American astronauts into danger. It's clear from Linenger's account that only the heroic actions of the astronauts and cosmonauts kept the station running for as long as it did.
The book goes into great detail about the nuts-and-bolts of life aboard Mir: the sounds, the smells, the daily schedule and relentless work needed to keep her flying. Linenger is a generous host, willing to reveal everything. One of the more fascinating sections described his earth-observation duties. Driven by his desire to become "a world-class geographer," he goes into detail about how he accomplished his goal. I'm fascinated about how some people can do so much while others -- myself included -- do so little. Time management, for me, is limited to finding a watch I can wear longer than two weeks. Watching Linenger at work is worth more than any motivational speaker.
"Off the Planet" is an admirable book. Linenger is an excellent storyteller, and writes clear prose. He describes the scientific and technical aspects in terms understandable to the general reader. But, unwittingly perhaps, he also provides a glimpse inside Jerry M. Linenger, M.D., Ph.D., and shows us the seed inside his egotism. His galaxy-sized self-regard can be annoying on the page, but from it came his ability to accomplish much. It drives him to be the best at whatever he's doing, no matter what. And as a result, for five month, it really was Jerry's world, and we were just along for the ride. After that harrowing voyage of the near-damned, he's earned his bragging rights.