The famous satellite’s shiny metal orb reflects the entire nerve-racking history of Soviet/American relations during the Cold War.
Brzezinski (Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security—An Inside Look at the Coming Surveillance State, 2004, etc.) brings years of experience as a Moscow-based journalist to bear on his subject, the very earliest days of the space race. His exhaustive research among newly opened archives in both Moscow and Washington is evident. He begins with a terse, dramatic description of a V-2 rocket attack on London before moving on to the cutthroat contest between former allies to find, isolate and capture Hitler’s rocket technology, including the visionary scientists like Werner Von Braun (see Michael J. Neufeld’s Von Braun, 2007, for more information) who created it. The story is told in fast-paced, parallel narratives with the taut undertones of a spy novel as Brzezinski intertwines the Sputnik program’s technical achievements with the global conflict growing between the emerging superpowers led by Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev. Though the author focuses primarily on events leading to the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, subsequent chapters cover the launch of Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite in February of 1958. In the process, Brzezinski demonstrates, America and Russia both changed drastically as a new culture of competition emerged. His anecdotes range from absurd (Von Braun and actor Ronald Reagan host a Disney program on “Tomorrowland”) to prescient (Eisenhower observes that a war waged with atomic missiles “would be just complete, indiscriminate devastation”) to terrifying (as Moscow detonates its first atomic bomb, General Curtis LeMay grumbles over the lost opportunity to completely destroy Russia with an anticipatory atomic attack). Extrapolating the space race’s impact on future technology, the author offers largely superfluous and obvious conclusions in the epilogue. Otherwise, his well-drawn exposé of this fundamental conflict is first-rate.
A chilling portrait of rocket scientists and cold warriors at work.