Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon Hardcover – Large Print, Aug 1 2009
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
University of Georgia Libraries
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
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
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!
After reading the first few chapters of this book, I could not decide if it was a very good humor book or a very poor history book. After finishing it and noting well over 150 obvious errors, I think the latter.
Some of the gems:
Apollo 4 did NOT do a U-turn after launch and head for the ground (pg. 194)
MR-2 and Ham did NOT hit 2,298 miles per SECOND (pg. 149)
Saturn V did NOT use frozen O2 & H2 (pg. 6)
LM ladder temp at touchdown was NOT 2,000 deg (pg. 280)
Apollo 8 did NOT launch in 1948 (it was 1968) (pg. 199)
LH2 is NOT an oxidizer (pg. 97)
Armstrong did NOT log 4,000 hrs in the X-15 (on just 7 flights!) (pg. 53)
escape velocity from Earth is NOT 18,000 mph (pg. 125)
CSM and LM did NOT cost $100K each (pg. 7)
LM descent stage had only had 1 engine, NOT "engines" (pg. 247)
Thor is an ICBM on pg. 113, but downgrades to an IRBM by pg. 117
LM did NOT use hydrogen peroxide for the attitude thrusters (pg. 60, 234)
GET is Ground Elapsed Time, NOT "General" (pg. 84)
NASA's Wallops Island facility is in Virginia, NOT Maryland (pg. 129)
The list goes on. And on and on.
On pg. 210 he writes "an LM". Anybody who doesn't know "LM" is pronounced "lem" and not "ell em" should not be writing about it. (Same comment for "an LOX plant" on pg. 106.)
And where did he come up with the idea that the gold-plated visors would be helpful in keeping aliens from seeing human faces (pg. 268)?
This might be the worst space history book I have ever read. Do yourself a favor and instead read "In the Shadow of the Moon" and "Into That Silent Sea" by French and Burgess and "The First Men on the Moon" by Harland; this one is pretty poor.
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