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Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age Paperback – 5 Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (5 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080508858X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088588
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,325,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Matthew Brzezinski is a former Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and has reported extensively on homeland-security issues for The New York Times Magazine and other publications. He is the author of Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism’s Wildest Frontier and Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security.

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By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 7 Dec. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Focusing on the period between 1956 and 1958, Matthew Brzezinski recreates the Cold War atmosphere which began in the aftermath of World War II and culminated with the Russian launching of Sputnik in October, 1957 . Both the United States and the Soviet Union, in their rush to occupy their post-war sectors of Germany, had wanted to acquire as much German technology as possible--rockets, missiles, and, of course, the German scientists who made it all possible. The US had all the advantages--finding a secret missile lab (hidden in a mountain with a concentration camp in front of it), removing dozens of advanced rockets and missiles to the US, and enticing key scientists to emigrate to the United States. Still, it was the Soviet Union, with far fewer spoils of war and much less developed missile programs, which succeeded in orbiting the first satellite.

Brzezinski's extensive research, detailed character analyses of the key players and their subordinates, and vivid recreations of the economic and political realities of both countries increase the tension in the lead-up to Sputnik. Sociological details about the U-2 development, the Little Rock demonstrations, the civil rights movement, and the political infighting in the Eisenhower administration are balanced by analyses of the USSR's problems with rebellious Poland and Hungary, coups and countercoups which oust and then reinstall Krushchev, and the Russian army's fight against missiles in favor of manpower and conventional materiel.
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Amazon.com: 27 reviews
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Authenticity and "Truthiness" 26 Nov. 2007
By Ron N. Butler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
"One Small Ball" and the Terror that Started the Space Race 18 Sept. 2007
By Steve R - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I must have received a pre-release copy of 'Red Moon Rising' because I review books for a large newspaper. Two weeks ago the doorbell rang and there it was on my doorstep. I'm glad they sent it. This political history of the sputnik launch reads as if it was co-written by Ian Flemming.

The political effects of the Soviet launch of Sputnik in October 1957 shocked the Russians as much as the Americans: Sputnik was simply the by-product of Soviet attempts to create a decent missile-weapons system. But by being the first in space, the USSR placed itself in an orbit equal with the world's then sole superpower, the USA. PS1--prostreishy sputnik, or `simplest satellite,'--spent only 92 days beeping innocuously far above the earth, but it instilled far more terror in the West than 1000s of silos spread across Siberia ever could. And Khrushchev, technologically ignorant but ever the opportunist, milked it for all it was worth.

Of course for the USA the launch of Sputnik was humiliating, shattering America's complacency and belief in its technological superiority, and exposing US security weaknesses even then ("For the Soviets, it was mind-boggling how much information the Americans naively left lying around for the KGB to scoop up. Russian generals didn't need a satellite to find out what was going on in Washington. They needed a missile to destroy it." pg. 144). Most significantly, Sputnik caused untold political upheaval. That "one small ball" was Eisenhower's undoing.

In fact, 'Red Moon Rising' is essentially just this--a political history of technology, not the history of a technological event. The author, Matthew Brzezinski, tells the story of the politics--not so much the science--behind the development of Russia's missile program and how Sputnik's launch (which was little more than an afterthought in Russia's defense strategy) started the space race.

It does start off a little slow, and keeping track of the different players in this drama requires that the reader pay attention. But it's worth getting through the first few chapaters and remembering who's who.

With its quick pace, trans-global intrigue, and cast of ego-maniacal scientists, generals, and heads of state, this is a great book. And as an example of how a history of major political events can be constructed around an important technological moment, 'Red Moon Rising' is excellent.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating look at the early space race 28 Sept. 2007
By David W. Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fascinating look at the start of the space race, how the Soviets won and why, and the forces that surrounded those momentous events. Author Brzezinski works both sides of the Iron Curtain, showing what influenced Khrushchev's interest in the project and Eisenhower's disdain of the American counterpart, and makes it clear how really happenstance and uncertain the whole thing was.

The Soviet effort was headed by a visionary who's pretty much unknown outside Russia, and rather obscure even within his native country. His name was Sergei Korolev, and he was the visionary behind much of the early Soviet space program. The Soviets, of course, were paranoid, and their leadership was constantly insistent on the leadership getting credit for everything, so even in Khrushchev's more liberal Soviet Union Korolev's name was classified until after his death. The author does a wonderful job recreating the life of this loud, boisterous, intelligent scientist who wasn't the best rocket designer, but was a pretty good project manager who contrived to use other people's talents to their full potential. His counterpart, Bruce Medaris (another unknown), is similarly brought to life, and the result is a fascinating look at the early space programs of the two countries involved.

The book is to a fair extent about the politics involved in the race on each side, so there's a considerable discussion of the major issues of the day, especially those which distracted President Eisenhower or Khrushchev when either of them was trying to make a decision regarding the launching of missiles or satellites. Eisenhower had to deal with the British and French invading Egypt, and himself sort of invade Little Rock, Arkansas with the 101st Airborne to integrate the schools there. Khrushchev had a failed coup to weather, a too-popular army chief to demote, and a stumbling economy. And of course neither of the men recognized how important Sputnik was going to be until it was up in the sky, beeping harmlessly and orbiting the earth. Pravda barely noted the launch the day it happened: the following day, when it had become clear that everyone else was impressed, the headline was inches in height.

This is a very good book, interesting and well-written. It works well on several levels, as a political history of the United States, as a cautionary tale of the dangers of bureaucratic rivalry in our government, as a further cautionary tale of the dangers of believing every bit of intelligence passed through the hands of the government, and as an interesting discussion of why the Soviets were good at some things and so very bad at others. I would recommend Red Moon Rising.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By Joseph R. Calamia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was 10 years old and returning from Los Alamos, N.M. with my mother on October 4, 1957. We were just outside of Orogrande, N.M. when a special report came across the air waves and into the car radio. The Russians had launched an artificial satellite known as "Sputnik." My mother listened intently for a moment and then, made some comment to the affect: "Well, the Russians have beat us into space...we're in trouble now!" I had no "earthly" idea what a satellite was then, but grew up within it's shadow of turbulance.

Matthew Brzezinski's "Red Moon Rising" is "top-notch" historical research and writing.

Brzezinski places the reader into an elevated mono-rail and sends them down the paths of history never before seen or, known by the common citizen. He supplies his readers with a magnifying glass of knowledge which allows them to see what really went on from the "far left" to the "far right." Within that magnified strata the reader is privey to a great many things including world politics, aircraft design, rocketry, and everything in between. The "in-house" political squabbling between Military Generals, and inter-service rivalry is almost comical if, it were not so dangerously sad and true.

The Soviet Union was testing their first IBM, when the United States Air Force was happily building up their fleets of bombers that were almost, obsolete by the time they took to wing. The Russians on the other hand, realizing they could not compete with the quality or, quantity of aircraft being built started focusing on the Rocket and it's far-reaching potentials. The Soviets were spending more money on rocket development, had a prototype ICBM, but could not perfect the problem with nose-cone re-entry burnup.

A stale-mate of sorts began to develop until, the Russian scientists' decided to distract the military and Khrushchev from the the nose-cone reentry problem. After all, with the launch of a satellite into orbit, the need for an intact returning nose cone (or warhead) was irrelevant.
The payload trajectory of a satellite was out and away, and not intended to be a quarterback's touch-down pass.

Therefore, an "orbital field-goal" of a 184 pound polished aluminum sphere would be the political and symbolic football that scored the winning point of the game and...changed the world forever... as we once knew it!

Brzezinski has out done himself, and I think Bryon Burroughs'superb book review shows you what a truly fine and indepth piece of work this is.

What more can I say?
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A Must-Have Book 2 Nov. 2007
By Colin Burgess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Matthew Brzezinski, take a bow - this is one heck of a good book. I've been reading and writing about spaceflight history for more than four decades now, and every so often a book comes along that just slots right into the category of The Best Book Available on the Subject. This is an engrossing, enjoyable and informative story of the origins of the Space Race, and while I have a vast number of books on the subject in my private library dating way back to those by Medaris, Caidin, Gatland, Bergaust, right through to others written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first Sputnik, this will always be the one I will refer to first when I want to check on something. Not just because it is remarkably well told and covers the subject comprehensively, but because it is accurate and reliable. And that, to any true spaceflight devotee, researcher and reader, is paramount.

In a word, this book is superb.
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