An essential guide for any scientist or engineer hoping to attempt a feat of derring-do.


The Wild Black Yonder


An aerospace engineer’s diary chronicles three years in the life of the interdisciplinary team that enabled the world’s highest sky dive.

In 2011, Alan Eustace, a pilot and avid sky diver, wanted to make a record-setting dive from 135,890 feet up. Then, as now, Eustace was a senior vice president at Google, so he was well-funded and well-connected enough to make his dream a reality. Debut author Leidich, a career engineer, helped design the spacesuit that Eustace would wear, and somewhere along the line, he became a kind of historian for the StratEx project. He explains the stakes that were involved: “At the time we started this endeavor, four people had ascended to the stratosphere with the intention of free-falling down. Two of them died.” For three years, the team worked to secure funding for, design, and test the balloon that would carry Eustace to the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere and create the suit and parachute that would enable him to safely return. Leidich’s book truly conveys the reality of the engineering process: “Design is meticulous and slow,” the author writes. “It is an intentionally dry and sober process of double, triple, and quadruple checking.” His account is replete with technical detail and doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that he and his cohorts faced. There were moments when tempers flared, office politics came into play, and team members found themselves wondering who was in charge. Leidich even details his own brush with death, when a test of the suit almost resulted in his suffocation. For all its drama and historic value, though, the book doesn’t say much about why the scientists and engineers of StratEx did what they did. Leidich very briefly notes that projects like StratEx are a steppingstone for an eventual journey to Mars, and the book would have been well-served by expanding on that idea. The author does makes a convincing, if somewhat frightening, argument for private space travel, though, when he remarks that only those who are willing to accept the possibility of death will succeed—because riskier projects are more affordable. Of NASA, he says that “a human-carrying spaceship made to their specifications cannot be made with the money and time they have.” This assertion alone could have supported an entire chapter.

An essential guide for any scientist or engineer hoping to attempt a feat of derring-do.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976919-0-0

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Stratospheric Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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