A delightful slice of NASA life.

THE MISSION

A TRUE STORY

The inner workings of NASA through an enthusiastic account of an interplanetary probe to a distant moon.

Although space travel hasn’t enraptured the U.S. since the 1969 Apollo moon landing, NASA continues to accomplish great feats, and more are in the offing, including this book’s subject: the 2024 launch of a multibillion-dollar spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. To puzzled readers, journalist and Army veteran Brown explains that the Galileo probe, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, discovered a liquid water ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface. Life requires liquid water, and despite a torrent of probes and landers, none has turned up on Mars. No president since Lyndon Johnson has shown a genuine interest in space travel, a feeling shared by Congress with rare exceptions, including one of Brown’s unlikely heroes, a conservative from Texas. Furthermore, when Congress doles out tax money, anything involving astronauts takes priority. Even space buffs struggle to name a discovery produced by the manned space station, but robotic probes often return spectacular discoveries. Despite this, unmanned programs struggle for attention in this “astronaut-led, astronaut-centric organization,” but its scientists and engineers contain many brilliant workaholics. Brown delivers breathless biographies of a dozen as he describes their effort, now passing 20 years, to explore Europa. Since the 1990s, they have seen several proposals approved and then killed, but the Europa Clipper mission will probably happen for the only reason space programs happen: Congress approved the money. Readers will roll their eyes but keep reading as Brown engagingly describes the cutthroat NASA political landscape, in which Mars gets the most attention, leaving advocates of other planets fuming. Leading-edge technology usually goes over budget, but Congress rarely makes up the difference, so high priority space programs that run short extract money from other programs and sometimes get them cancelled. Few experts expect the 2024 launch date to hold, but some time after 2030, we may find evidence of fish on Europa.

A delightful slice of NASA life.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-265442-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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