It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive or enjoyable history of the Space Race.




NBC journalist Barbree, who holds the distinction of being the only reporter to cover every space mission flown by astronauts, recounts the fascinating, tragic and ultimately inspirational history of the U.S. space program.

The author lived among the astronauts, socialized with them and watched as they strapped themselves into small metal canisters perched atop unimaginable explosive force. His personal involvement with the men who conquered space distinguishes this book from Tom Wolfe’s classic, bumptious look at the space program’s early days, The Right Stuff (1979), curiously not mentioned here. Where Wolfe projected himself into the astronauts’ culture and mindset, Barbree shared them, and his enthusiasm for the material is irresistible. Stories of wild pranks, insanely reckless midnight drives and steadfast loyalty shared by the test pilots-turned-spacefarers leaven the impressively researched technical information, which is presented in a clear, accessible fashion. The author provides a trenchant analysis of the emotional underpinnings that initially drove the program, based on an epic rivalry with the Soviet Union. He isn’t shy about venting his frustration at the government and military bureaucracy that impeded the program’s progress and cost the lives of too many brave men and women. Passages on the tragedies that befell Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia are by turns anguished, outraged and cogent in their examination of what went wrong and what preventive measures might have been taken. Barbree (co-author, A Journey Through Time, 1995, etc.) was the reporter who broke the story on Challenger’s faulty O-rings, and his account of his struggle to get the story past NBC brass crackles with narrative tension. A final chapter on NASA’s plans for building a permanent lunar station, to be used as a base for future colonization of other planets, concludes the narrative on a note of awe and optimism—the very feelings that inspired humanity’s first steps into the Great Beyond.

It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive or enjoyable history of the Space Race.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-123392-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.


Former Dirty Jobs star Rowe serves up a few dozen brief human-interest stories.

Building on his popular podcast, the author “tells some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do.” Some of those stories, he allows, have been subject to correction, just as on his TV show he was “corrected on windmills and oil derricks, coal mines and construction sites, frack tanks, pig farms, slime lines, and lumber mills.” Still, it’s clear that he takes pains to get things right even if he’s not above a few too-obvious groaners, writing about erections (of skyscrapers, that is, and, less elegantly, of pigs) here and Joan Rivers (“the Bonnie Parker of comedy”) there, working the likes of Bob Dylan, William Randolph Hearst, and John Wayne into the discourse. The most charming pieces play on Rowe’s own foibles. In one, he writes of having taken a soft job as a “caretaker”—in quotes—of a country estate with few clear lines of responsibility save, as he reveals, humoring the resident ghost. As the author notes on his website, being a TV host gave him great skills in “talking for long periods without saying anything of substance,” and some of his stories are more filler than compelling narrative. In others, though, he digs deeper, as when he writes of Jason Everman, a rock guitarist who walked away from two spectacularly successful bands (Nirvana and Soundgarden) in order to serve as a special forces operative: “If you thought that Pete Best blew his chance with the Beatles, consider this: the first band Jason bungled sold 30 million records in a single year.” Speaking of rock stars, Rowe does a good job with the oft-repeated matter of Charlie Manson’s brief career as a songwriter: “No one can say if having his song stolen by the Beach Boys pushed Charlie over the edge,” writes the author, but it can’t have helped.

Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982130-85-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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