A fine evocation of the NASA experience—in the sky and on Earth.

WONDERS ALL AROUND

THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF ASTRONAUT BRUCE MCCANDLESS II AND THE FIRST UNTETHERED FLIGHT IN SPACE

The sometimes-frustrated, sometimes-exalted life of an astronaut is excavated in this probing biography.

McCandless profiles his father, Bruce McCandless II, an Apollo astronaut who never made it onto a moon shot but later served on a space shuttle mission where he made history’s first untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit jet pack, becoming famous for an iconic photograph that showed him flying jauntily through space. In the author’s fond but cleareyed assessment, McCandless senior was a daring pilot, a brilliant engineer who did critical work on the MMU and the Hubble Space Telescope, a passionate environmentalist, and a questing soul whose motto was “onward.” He was also an “abrupt, self-absorbed, and prickly” man who was both whip smart and oblivious. (He once surprised his wife by giving her a book entitled Open Marriage for Christmas, “just for consideration.”) The book is also a vivid depiction of a testy father-son relationship pitting senior’s culture of astronauts who “cut their hair short and at precise geometric angles to minimize drag” against junior’s feckless, 1970s counterculture of teens in “greasy hair and grimy jeans…looking for psychedelic mushrooms in the cow manure.” The author’s portrait ably conveys the complexities of an astronaut’s existence: the anxious jockeying for scarce mission slots, the death-defying extremism of rocketry—“it felt like Challenger was going to break apart, and he shut his mouth tight so his stomach wouldn’t fall out”—and the pathos of McCandless senior’s predicament when he seemed eternally stuck in ground assignments that thwarted his drive and talent. (“A man who’d wrestled a Phantom warplane capable of flying 1,200 miles per hour onto the deck of a lurching aircraft carrier in a thunderstorm, at night, was now poking along Highway 183 north of Austin in a barn-size Chevy Suburban with the speedometer pegged on double nickels.”) The author’s colorful prose is shrewdly realistic about space flight but also alive to its lyrical humanism. (“The [photograph’s] oddly serene contrast of a solitary man emerging from the immensity of the universe, small but self-directed…suggests order—a triumph, even if tenuous, against what is dark and immense and essentially incomprehensible.”) The result is an absorbing testament to perseverance in pursuit of empyrean ambition.

A fine evocation of the NASA experience—in the sky and on Earth.

Pub Date: July 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62634-865-3

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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