David M. Harland has produced a very thorough and readable account of this benchmark Apollo mission. Apollo 12 set the tone for NASA's remaining lunar landing missions. Apollo 11 showed that the U.S. could land human beings on the moon and return them safely to Earth. Only four month later Apollo 12 demonstrated that we could: land astronauts at a specific site; conduct effective, pre-planned geological field trips; retrieve selected artifacts from another spacecraft; assemble and set up a complex package of scientific experiments on the lunar surface.
Harland reaches launch day by page 79. Before this he has breezed through Kennedy's commitment, crew backgrounds, the Apollo program, landing site selection, mission patch design, vehicle call signs, the scientific experiment package, the launch vehicle and crew training. While most of these are standard fare, it is indeed unfortunate that the author did not provide more insight into Apollo 12's controversial landing site selection.
The story of how Conrad, Al Bean, and Dick Gordon might have been the first lunar landing mission crew is retold in a short dissertation. A more obscure, but equally interesting scenario that Harland could have included is: had Armstrong and Aldrin failed to land during the Apollo 11 mission, NASA Administrator Thomas Paine would have given that same crew another shot, on Apollo 12. Had this occurred, Conrad, Bean and Gordon would have been reassigned to the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
From launch day to the first "rock fest" Harland spends 433 pages relating the by-the-checklist execution of this most complex and challenging lunar adventure. His somewhat bland, but nevertheless complete, narrative is punctuated by a truly inspired selection of photographs and diagrams, most of which are reproduced with striking clarity. Two gems (for this reviewer) are: a diagram of Al Bean's portion of the command module's control panel (page 108) showing the obscure SCE switch that all but saved the mission during the launch crisis; and an eerie picture of Pete Conrad (page 240) about to descend the ladder onto the pristine lunar surface. As an aside, I do wish Harland had included a retouched image of Dick Gordon's part of the control panel showing the illuminated caution and warning lights after the lightning strike.
Despite Harland's dry style (thank God for Conrad's, Bean's and Gordon's irrepressible personalities), I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I have thoroughly studied this mission (along with one other) over the past forty years and can state that there is no aspect about Apollo 12, of which I am aware, that is not covered in Harland's book. He even cleared up one misconception for me.
That being said, there remain two caveats to consider. One is that Harland ends his narrative far too abruptly. While he briefly discusses the lunar samples collected by Conrad and Bean, he provides no suitable context for what this mission meant to lunar exploration in the Apollo era. He also does not include any follow-up about what happened to the principals of Apollo 12 afterwards. The second is that there is no bibliography. For a book whose content comes from many sources (although, apparently, no face-to-face interviews), it is, to me, unconscionable not to list them in detail.