An enjoyable exploration of spacecraft from a reliably knowledgeable guide.



“On the cusp of a new space age, with a seemingly limitless opportunity for both robotic and human engagement in space,” an expert surveys many of the manned space programs that failed spectacularly, fizzled, or never left the drawing board.

The Apollo program and the international space station succeeded, but flops far outnumbered them, writes science journalist Pyle (Curiosity: An Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen, 2014, etc.) in this delightful collection. The Nazis built the first space rocket, the V2, but not a 100-ton rocket plane designed to cross the Atlantic and bomb America—although a talented engineer submitted plans. After World War II, more elaborate plans did not convince the U.S. to fund Project Horizon, a massive military moon base. The Air Force spent millions on an early space shuttle, the Dyna-Soar (cancelled in 1963), and space station (cancelled in 1969). Dwarfing these was the Soviet effort to beat America to the moon, which ended in a catastrophic series of explosions, malfunctions, and deaths. Pyle has done his homework, delivering informed accounts of the reasons, political and technical, behind each failure. He includes mishaps that marred successful programs, including several during Apollo, but readers will agree with him that the greatest disaster followed its triumph. No one predicted that America would junk Apollos’ superb infrastructure and spacecraft, including what is still the world’s most powerful rocket, the Saturn V. Yet, in a catastrophic “failure of imagination,” that is what happened. No human has left orbit since 1972. The author ends with an optimistic review of today’s programs, many led by entrepreneurs spending their own money. This has produced ingenious technical advances, but manned interplanetary travel will require generous government support which no one—except perhaps the Chinese—is providing.

An enjoyable exploration of spacecraft from a reliably knowledgeable guide.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63388-221-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

Did you like this book?

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?