Next book

BEYOND

THE ASTONISHING STORY OF THE FIRST HUMAN TO LEAVE OUR PLANET AND JOURNEY INTO SPACE

A welcome addition to the literature of space exploration, shedding light on the Soviet contribution.

Energetic history of the first years of the space race, focusing on Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968).

Partly because they were late coming to the atomic bomb, the Soviets were determined not to lose ground in the space race. Consequently, writes popular historian and documentary director Walker, the ministry of defense requisitioned ground “four times the size of Greater London,” at first called Leninsky, where engineers developed the largest rocket in the world. Several rockets had exploded before they got one into space containing two dogs, proof that living things could survive the experience. Soon it was pilot hero Gagarin’s turn. Chosen from a huge group of candidates steadily winnowed down to six—we know this, Walker writes, thanks to a diary a high official in the program surreptitiously kept—Gagarin had strong competition with a fighter pilot named Pavel Popovich, who was ruled out because he was Ukrainian. “Even as the Soviet Union’s propagandists paid lip service to the socialist ideals of ethnic equality,” notes Walker, “Popovich’s origin was a handicap.” Though not the first historian to recount the Soviet Vostok program and its successors, the author does good work in contrasting it in detail with the American astronaut program (John Glenn would orbit the planet less than a year after Gagarin). Of particular interest is Walker’s investigation of the origins of the American determination to be the first to land on the moon, driven by John Kennedy’s bitter recognition of America’s defeat; he asked advisers, “Can we leapfrog them? Is there any place we can catch them? What can we do?” The answer was Apollo, a “distant and uncertain adventure that Kennedy himself had effectively quashed in the latest round of NASA’s budget cuts.” On the human front, Walker’s depiction of Gagarin’s succumbing to the “rock star” syndrome after his orbit, a feat he would never again match, is especially affecting.

A welcome addition to the literature of space exploration, shedding light on the Soviet contribution.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297815-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

Next book

COMING HOME

A compelling, often chilling look inside today’s version of the Gulag.

The WNBA star recounts her imprisonment by the Putin regime.

“My horror begins in a land I thought I knew, on a trip I wish I hadn’t taken,” writes Griner. She had traveled to Russia before, playing basketball for the Yekaterinburg franchise of the Russian league during the WNBA’s off-season, but on this winter day in 2022, she was pulled aside at the Moscow airport and subjected to an unexpected search that turned up medically prescribed cannabis oil. As the author notes, at home in Arizona, cannabis is legal, but not in Russia. After initial interrogation—“They seemed determined to get me to admit I was a smuggler, some undercover drug lord supplying half the country”—she was bundled off to await a show trial that was months in coming. With great self-awareness, the author chronicles the differences between being Black and gay in America and in Russia. “When you’re in a system with no true justice,” she writes, “you’re also in a system with a bunch of gray areas.” Unfortunately, despite a skilled Russian lawyer on her side, Griner had trouble getting to those gray areas, precisely because, with rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s people seemed intent on making an example of her. Between spells in labor camps, jails, and psych wards, the author became a careful observer of the Russian penal system and its horrors. Navigating that system proved exhausting; since her release following an exchange for an imprisoned Russian arms dealer (about which the author offers a le Carré–worthy account of the encounter in Abu Dhabi), she has been suffering from PTSD. That struggle has invigorated her, though, in her determination to free other unjustly imprisoned Americans, a plea for which closes the book.

A compelling, often chilling look inside today’s version of the Gulag.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593801345

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2024

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 51


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2023


  • New York Times Bestseller

Next book

ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 51


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2023


  • New York Times Bestseller

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

Close Quickview