Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Private Life of Rocket Science

by M.G. Lord

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8027-1427-7
Publisher: Walker

The daughter of an aerospace engineer tells occasionally scandalous personal stories about the geniuses who engineered the space race, while coming to terms with her father’s detachment from her life.

Lord’s jauntily feminist perspective, also evident in Forever Barbie (1995), sets this effort apart from the Right Stuff pack of more mainstream books about the rocket men. “The buzz-cut cowboys of Mission Control, homogeneous as a Rockette kick-line, were a cold-war fiction,” she writes in the introduction. She may include two chapters on “gender parity,” but Lord’s estrogen-friendly perspective doesn’t define the book so much as distinguish it. Though she aims to drive the narrative with her quest to tease out the factors behind her father’s de facto absence from his home life, that remains a side-plot. Her pop-psychology, gender-role analysis has the most impact in her indictment of the system and the environment that drove these men to behave as they did. Lord draws the expected links from Nazism to the postwar space race and supplies “recently declassified” information to add new fuel to the fire. In her indictment of the red-scare politics that publicly rehabilitated war criminals while ruining the careers of innocent engineers, she implicates the usual suspects (Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ) and digs up a few new bogeymen (Ike, Phyllis Schlafly, Walt Disney) with allegations and conclusions that are well sourced, if not exhaustively fleshed-out. She aims to entertain as much as to educate, but Lord fails to weave a narrative thread compelling enough to escape the gravity of the cold technical details. The text sometimes reads like a glib hybrid of science history and tabloid gossip. In the end, however, Lord’s snappy prose and studied perspective save the project, especially when she links particular scientists to autism, the European art scene, or occult sex rituals.

Certainly of interest to aerospace fans, Cold War buffs, and conspiracy theorists, but possibly also right for the iconoclastic bookish young woman.