This is an odd book. It's not really a biography since it only starts in detail when Armstrong bales out in Korea and the author employs some of the devices of the novelist as well as the historian. Secondly, it is more of a re-telling of the early US manned space program than a book specifically about Armstrong. According to the author this is an insider's view and "the primary engine driving this book is accuracy". The author makes two other assertions that I will hold him to. "Neil's words in this book are direct quotes by me and others I know to be trustworthy", and "At times I will put myself in Neil's shoes to re-create his thoughts . . .". Well, I have only Barbree's word for the "insider" aspect and will return to it later.
So far as accuracy is concerned, the primary engine doesn't seem to be quite firing on all cylinders. At times the author appears to be very careful with his phraseology, giving a misleading impression whilst avoiding being pinned down. I will give one trifling example from his account of Apollo 8 on page 172: "signals between Apollo 8 and Mission Control would be blocked for more than twenty minutes". Since it was actually 35 minutes the statement is not untrue but is misleading. More seriously, on page 194 discussing Tom Stafford we have: "secretly has test-flown two versions of Russia's MiGs". Well not by Apollo 10 he hadn't, Stafford flew the MiGs years later after he'd left the astronaut office so clearly misleading. Or how about page 149 discussing training in the LLTV prior to Apollo 7: "likely moon-landing commanders Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad, Jim Lovell, Alan Shepard, David Scott, John Young and Gene Cernan busied themselves trying to master flying the Bedstead". Well, that simply isn't true of most of them at that time, and other guys who were not in the frame for lunar command did make flights. There is a huge amount of this sort of thing throughout. Individually they may be considered minor points, but together form a kind of squidgy barrier between the reader and the actual facts.
Then there are the straight forward inaccuracies. From Apollo 11 on page 214: "He [Armstrong] was the only member of the crew with a window until they ejected the escape tower", no he wasn't, Aldrin in the centre couch had a clear hatch window. Or how about this fantasy from Apollo 11 on page 258: "Four lights gleamed brightly - four marvellous lights welcoming them to another world . . . Four round landing pads at the end of Eagle's legs rested . . .". Well there were a lot more than four lights on in Eagle's cabin but I assume that Barbree is attempting to refer to the single blue Lunar Contact light illuminated by the first of three probes to hit the surface (the front landing pad had no probe). And there's plenty more where they came from. The space pen story rears it's head again, but we know Aldrin actually used a Duro marker pen.
But my favourite inaccuracies appear in numerous photograph captions. A handful of examples begins with page 59 showing the X-15A-2 carrying a dummy SCRAMJET years after Armstrong left the program rather than "Neil's X-15 moves into black sky". Page 96 shows Armstrong during an ejection seat weight and balance check rather than "Neil tries on his Gemini 8 commander's spacesuit". I don't know where the picture on page 109 came from but it wasn't Gemini 8. Page 199 shows Stafford and Cernan on Earth in a simulator not "8.4 miles above the moon". Page 203 shows Endeavour in lunar orbit during Apollo 15 not Charlie Brown during Apollo 10. The caption on page 204 is just so wrong I don't know where to begin. Page 246 is an unacknowledged composite picture giving a completely misleading perspective. Getting bored of this nonsense? I am.
Then we have the semi-fictitious stuff set in Russia. Very dramatic but not strictly fully supportable by the record. Other events, such as Young's light hearted banter with Mission Control during Apollo 10 are twisted by Barbree. As they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Now for "direct quotes". Well Barbree can't even get the inscription on Eagle's plaque correct, only wrong by one letter, but giving a rather different impression. Nit picky? Yes, but it's not difficult and remember what the "primary engine" was? Or on page 253 during Eagle's powered descent: "Give us a reading on the 1202 Program alarm, Houston, right now". Armstrong never said the last three words, so "direct quote"? More like a change of emphasis by the author. Again, readers will find more of this if they care to look.
As for putting himself in Neil's shoes some of it, like describing looking at Mount Fuji seems pretty harmless. Elsewhere, such as some of the "thoughts" about his daughter it seems to be presumptuous. But for me the oddest parts are towards the end. Chapter 24 ends with the line "His [Armstrong's] thoughts are next". After a quick description of the Big Bang at the start of Chapter 25 (one assumes by Armstrong and it's certainly written in his style), we get on page 337: "Neil Armstrong, as did most questioned . . .", implying a change in viewpoint but also calling into question exactly who the previous speaker was meant to be, and this confounding of Armstrong's supposed thoughts with Barbree's own viewpoint occurs to a greater or lesser extent throughout the book. I'm sure that journalist Barbree feels justified in this kind of thing because he believes he was a close friend and fellow aviator with some kind of "inside scoop" on Armstrong's head. I find all of those rather hard to buy. I do suspect that Armstrong was rather perceptive about Barbree's character.
There are some interesting hints and points here, but the author's wishy washy style and carelessness with facts leaves one cautious as to their veracity. Overall I found this book sentimental, inaccurate, misleading and rather lazy. If you want the facts about Armstrong's life read Hansen. Sure there was more but that was private and we'll never really know, which is what Armstrong wanted.
Armstrong deserves much better.