A fast-paced treatment of the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial Earth satellite and the American response, but the narrative bogs down frequently as the author stops to fill in background information in the course of a scene. The author also drops technical minutiae into the narrative to maintain interest and add authenticity. Unfortunately, Brzezinski is not that well-grounded in aerospace technology or terminology, and inserts enough clangers that the result is less an air of authenticity than of "truthiness."
Where this weakness particularly struck me was Chapter 6, "Pictures in Black and White," the opening of which describes the launch of a CIA U-2 mission to photograph the launch complex at Tyuratam.
* Brzezinski apparently has read that the U-2 had "bicycle landing gear," i.e., only two landing gear, located along the fuselage centerline. That becomes "The landing gear... appeared to consist of a lone bicycle wheel."
* Describes the CIA pilot as wearing an orange full-pressure suit, a garment that was not developed until years later. (The pilot would have been wearing a partial-pressure suit, like the David Clark MC-3.)
* Confuses Bell Aircraft with Bell Labs -- and further confuses the Bell Aircraft X-16 project with the "Americanization" of British Canberra bombers by Martin Aircraft.
* Describes the U-2 as having a wingspan "three times" its 60-foot fuselage length. For the early-model U-2's being discussed the fuselage length was a little over 49 feet, the wingspan 80 feet. I was starting to wonder if Brzezinski had ever seen a photo of a U-2.
* Describes attempts by MiG-21 fighters to intercept the first U-2 flight over the Soviet Union in July 1956. Quite a trick, considering that the first experimental prototype of the delta-winged MiG-21 only flew in June 1956 and production airplanes didn't enter service until 1959.
The author's overall aim is to place the launch of the first Earth satellites -- Sputniks 1 and 2, and the American Explorer and Vanguard -- in context, not only of technical accomplishments but also of the political maneuvering in both the United States and the Soviet Union that made a fairly straightforward engineering achievement into a watershed in world politics. That's an ambitious and laudable goal, and Brzezinski does (I think) an excellent job sketching the political pressures bearing on both Khrushchev and Eisenhower in late 1957.
I have to wonder, though, if all the connections made are valid. Omissions in participants' backgrounds can make inferences look more plausible than they really are, and there are some omissions in the book.
An oversight that struck me (though with no great effect on Brzenski's overall narrative) has to do with Wernher von Braun's career in the United States. Brzezinski's narrative for von Braun between the end of World War 2 and the launch of Sputnik is roughly: 1) von Braun cools his heels in Texas for two years, 2) von Braun works in obscurity at the Redstone Arsenal for the U.S. Army's Ballistic Missile Agency, 3) von Braun is approached by Walt Disney to advise on and appear in Disney's 1955 - 1957 "Man in Space" TV specials and becomes famous.
Missing from that storyline, though, is the event that made von Braun a public figure in the first place (though his Disney TV appearances certainly boosted his prominence to a whole new level): The 1952 - 1954 "Collier's Magazine" series of eight articles on space travel, a landmark in the introduction of space to the American public consciousness.
Before the rise of TV, the glossy magazines were a far greater influence on public opinion than they are today and "Collier's" was one of the Big Four, with a peak circulation of four million readers. The articles, some co-authored by von Braun and Cornelius Ryan, laid out plans for Earth satellites, manned rocket ferries, a space station, and an expedition to the Moon carried out by a fleet of huge spacecraft. The magazine's large-format, glossy pages carried detailed color illustrations and cutaways by artists like Chesley Bonestell and Fred Freeman. Supported by "Collier's" publicity efforts for the series, von Braun was interviewed on national television for the first time. Disney's Ward Kimball didn't just happen on Wernher von Braun out in the wilds of Alabama when he started pre-production on "Man in Space." Von Braun was already famous -- and the obvious "go-to" guy about manned space flight.
A Wernher von Braun CV that doesn't include "Collier's" is a little like a bio of John Kennedy that doesn't mention PT-109.
"Red Moon Rising" is colorful and entertaining. I just have some reservations about it as history.