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Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight [Kindle Edition]

Jay Barbree , John Glenn
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Much has been written about Neil Armstrong, America's modern hero and history's most famous space traveler. Yet shy of fame and never one to steal the spotlight Armstrong was always reluctant to discuss his personal side of events. Here for the first time is the definitive story of Neil's life of flight he shared for five decades with a trusted friend - Jay Barbree.

Working from 50 years of conversations he had with Neil, from notes, interviews, NASA spaceflight transcripts, and remembrances of those Armstrong trusted, Barbree writes about Neil's three passions - flight, family, and friends. This is the inside story of Neil Armstrong from the time he flew combat missions in the Korean War and then flew a rocket plane called the X-15 to the edge of space, to when he saved his Gemini 8 by flying the first emergency return from Earth orbit and then flew Apollo-Eleven to the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

Together Neil and Jay discussed everything, from his love of flying, to the war years, and of course his time in space. The book is full of never-before-seen photos and personal details written down for the first time, including what Armstrong really felt when he took that first step on the moon, what life in NASA was like, his relationships with the other astronauts, and what he felt the future of space exploration should be.

As the only reporter to have covered all 166 American astronaut flights and moon landings Jay knows these events intimately. Neil Armstrong himself said, "Barbree is history's most experienced space journalist. He is exceptionally well qualified to recall and write the events and emotions of our time." Through his friendship with Neil and his dedicated research, Barbree brings us the most accurate account of his friend's life of flight, the book he planned for twenty years.

Product Description


Praise for "Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight""Much of Barbree's writing has a "you are there" immediacy, because he was present for many of the book's key events. During his more than half-century as space correspondent for NBC News, Barbree witnessed and reported on each and every launch of the U.S. human space program. He is at his best when describing the visceral thrill of rocket flight, the lifeless majesty of the moon, and the visual splendor of Earth from space. These poetic passages are made all the more poignant by his close brush with becoming an astronaut, as a finalist in NASA's failed-to-launch "Journalist in Space" program."- "The Washington Post""Barbree's book reminds readers of all that led up to that first step.""- Associated Press" "Sit back, put up your feet, and spend some time with Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight, by Jay Barbree, NBC's longtime space correspondent, who has covered the US manned spaceflight program for more than half a century. To be sure, this is not the definitive, footnote-packed Armstrong biography. Instead, this book has the feel of sitting down with Barbree at a barbeque for an extended conversation.""Christian Science Monitor" 1of the 10 Best Books of July "NBC News space reporter Jay Barbree spent 50 years getting to know astronaut Neil Armstrong. In this biography, Barbree recalls Armstrong's historic moon landing in gripping detail."- "Parade: "included in Summer Books round-up "His richly detailed profile of Armstrong...covers Armstrong's life and career with intimacy, humor and heart, from his days as a U.S. Navy pilot through his training for the NASA space program, and ultimately into the commander's seat of Apollo 11. Space hounds and history buffs will dig it, for sure, but even casual readers will be riveted by its comprehensive portrait of a real-life cosmic cowboy who broke the bonds of Earth and put the first American footprint where it had never been before

About the Author

JAY BARBREE is in his 55th year with NBC News. He is the only reporter to have covered all 166 American astronaut flights and moon landings, and the only reporter to be awarded NASA's highest medal for public service. He received an Emmy for his coverage of Neil Armstrong's first walk on the moon, broke the cause of the Challenger accident on Tom Brokaw's Nightly News, and he's still on the job covering space for NBC's five television networks while writing space stories for Barbree was also the lead writer for the "New York Times" bestseller MOON SHOT with astronauts Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, and Neil Armstrong.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 15946 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (8 July 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HP1JZH6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #196,214 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor writing, no narrative 19 Aug. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The writing is poor. There are numerous grammatical mistakes. The style is clumsy and in many cases simply unclear. The book is promoted on the basis of the author's personal relationship with Armstrong, but there is no content other than an occasional minor anecdote that is not available from public sources and other accounts.

Perhaps if a good editor had worked on the book it could have been salvaged. As it is, the writing is excruciatingly bad, and there is no sense of narrative. Very disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 23 Jan. 2015
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Quick delivery, and product was as advertised
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  118 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Strange 28 Aug. 2014
By Sussex - Published on
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.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Anticipated but huge disappointment 4 Sept. 2014
By Murdue - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
First Man was much better, more detailed, more scientific, more meaty. This book is fluff and narrative, especially the contrived conversations and discussions are just too much. I am sure Neil was quiet and dignified, but the man was an engineer and scientist and loved his subject matter. Having attended UC Engineering while he was Dean (not mentioned in the book) and also a resident of his small community, I know the man by reputation pretty well. I just don't think this fluff piece captured the real Neil Armstrong very well.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor tribute to Armstrong 10 Aug. 2014
By Delta Sigma - Published on
Another loser book from Mr. Barbree. For somebody who spent his professional life reporting on the space program, this book has way too many historical and technical errors (I noted over 50 of them). And since I was an engineer on Gemini and Apollo at Kennedy, I think I have a pretty good perspective. The most preposterous error is the photo caption on page 280 where he states that it shows Columbia in lunar orbit while the LM is still on the surface. So who took the photo, lunar aliens?

I'm sure Mr. Armstrong would be very upset with this book; he deserves much better.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots and lots of problems 24 Oct. 2014
By Graham Dixon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are other, and much better, Armstrong biographies out there. This one reads and feels as though it was rushed to press immediately after the astronaut's death, and is absolutely full of inaccuracies. Other reviewers have noted some of these, but I was stunned to see Nikolai Kamanin, a senior figure in the Soviet space program, referred to as 'Lev Kamanin' both in the text and the index. It's a sloppy piece of work, in need of serious editing; there are dozens of problems with commas, leaving the text difficult to read, almost as though, in places, it was dictated into Dragon. Pass on this and read 'First Man' instead.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Book 7 Dec. 2014
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Whatever else Jay Barbree’s "Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight" might be, it is not a biography of Neil Armstrong (1930-2012). There is only small insight into his beliefs, desires, loves, or hates. There is little discussion of his family and his goals. There is even less about his early years, only a cursory exploration of his Korean War experience, and nothing to speak of about his lengthy and significant activities since ending his career as a NASA astronaut in the early 1970s.

What is present is largely generic information about early NASA, especially an almost mission-by-mission summary of the Apollo program with an often tenuous relationship to Neil Armstrong. To his credit, Barbree offers a number of observations about the nature of human spaceflight throughout the last half century and a few sometimes humorous and insightful stories. Unfortunately, these mostly have little to do with Neil Armstrong even as they offer useful perceptions.

There are many areas that Barbree might have explored in some detail. For example, Armstrong sought neither fame nor riches, and when he might have done anything he wished after his completion of the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission he chose to teach aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati. What was it about Neil Armstrong that prompted him to become an engineering professor teaching undergraduates? Explaining such decisions is part of the biographer’s responsibility.

I would also have very much appreciated an explication of the recent space policy issues that Armstrong became involved in. As the Space Shuttle was on track for retirement Barbree notes that in 2010 Gene Cernan (Apollo 17), Jim Lovell (Apollos 8 and 13), and Armstrong famously sent U.S. President Barack Obama a letter warning that failure to pursue an aggressive government spaceflight program, as they wrote, “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.”

This episode did not happen in a vacuum, but unfortunately it is left unexplained in Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight. That debate still rages, and Barbree might have made a contribution by exploring Armstrong’s role in depth. It originated in no small measure over whether or not to maintain a traditional approach to human spaceflight with NASA owning the vehicles and operating them through contractors. That was the method whereby America went to the Moon; it has proven successful over more than fifty years. That was seemingly the position of Neil Armstrong. Then there are those from the “new space” world that emphasize allowing private sector firms to seize the initiative and pursue entrepreneurial approaches to human spaceflight. Advocates of the more traditional approach believe that the other side will sacrifice safety; advocates of the entrepreneurial approach criticize the forces of tradition by pointing out their large, over-budget space efforts.

It is clear from this work that Barbree did not know Neil Armstrong very well despite having talked with him repeatedly; perhaps no one ever really knew him. Always gracious, Armstrong neither sought the spotlight nor the adulation of millions. He was nonplussed by all of the attention he received about Apollo 11 when he knew that he was simply one among thousands who made it possible. Regardless, he carried the weight of making that history on his back for more than forty years. Barbree might have explored these and other questions of Armstrong’s multifaceted persona. Nor does Barbree figure out the life of quiet honor and dignity Armstrong modeled. Some have characterized him as a recluse who stayed out of the spotlight, but when one tallies Armstrong’s activities since Apollo 11 there is much more there than anyone suspected. While some at NASA would have preferred that he had more publicly supported its initiatives, Armstrong’s thoughtful and reflective perspective carried weight because of the manner in which he conveyed it. Too bad, Barbree did not explore that aspect of Armstrong’s life.

This book can only be viewed as a disappointment given the possibilities it held. Jay Barbree has the longest tenure of any journalist covering the space program; his knowledge is both broad and deep. A more personal account by Barbree would have been welcomed by all. Instead, this book inaccurately announces itself as the “definitive” biography of Armstrong and some of the early advertising literature even claimed that it was an authorized biography.

Armstrong was a uniquely complex individual, one who has thus far been best captured in what was truly an authorized biography, James R. Hansen’s "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" (Simon and Schuster, 2005). Armstrong cooperated with every aspect of that book, giving his time to Hansen, reviewing the chapters and offering comments, but never interfering with Hansen’s conclusions. There will be many other fine biographies yet written, no doubt, but because of Armstrong’s complexity none will ever be definitive. He was so much more than an astronaut, and because of this none will communicate fully the humanity, passions, triumphs, and significance of Neil Armstrong.
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