THE ROCKET AND THE REICH by Michael J. Neufeld


PeenemÅnde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era
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 A dry history of the Nazi rocket program, concentrating on the development of liquid fuels for missiles. Neufeld, curator of WW II history at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, traces the history of the V-2 ballistic missiles catapulted by the Nazis on London and Paris. He discusses the various men who participated in the secret research at the rocket center PeenemÅnde, most notably wunderkind German aristocrat Wernher von Braun. Of more modest social status, but equally important, was Walter Dornberger, who administered the program. Neufeld's revisionist thesis is that the scientists were not all fanatics devoted to Hitler's cause. Yet the fact is, though PeenemÅnde was originally supported by industrialists, it eventually became one of Hitler's favored projects, and its scientists stood tall for the Third Reich. Many of them worked surreptitiously for German rearmament even before the war. Neufeld often verges on being an apologist for these men who used their genius for the Nazi cause while slave labor put the finishing touches on the instruments of war. He drones on in the manner of an official military historian, also dealing with the rivalries of bureaucratic ``empires'' within the Reich--intelligence, propaganda, etc.--as they jockeyed for Hitler's favor. In a book about rocketry one naturally expects some scientific discussion, but Neufeld's text is far too technical for nonspecialists. He is quite right in pointing out the irony of the Nazi rocket program's contributions to the Cold War: Victorious Americans and Soviets took German scientists as war booty to feed their own military machines, and Von Braun became a major force in NASA. Neufeld deserves his due for thorough research of both German and American archives, but his analysis is questionable and the writing is not up to the potential of the narrative.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1994
ISBN: 0-02-922895-6
Page count: 350pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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