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 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.


The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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