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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon Hardcover – 11 Jun 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (11 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719569486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719569487
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 24.2 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 862,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'I was there, kneeling, unable to breathe, before a television screen, watching Armstrong step off Eagle onto the regolith. I read [Rocket Men] in the same mood of boyhood wonder. So should you' (Sunday Times)

'Spectacular' (Vanity Fair)

'With Nelson's impeccable research, his ability to tie the myriad strings of the space race into a coherent whole and the power of the story itself, Rocket Men should be at the top of your book list' (New Scientist)

'Anyone with an ounce of poetry in their soul would have to concede that reaching the moon really was a giant leap for mankind. For the sheer drama, majesty and improbability of it all, it's a story that will be told time and time again. But rarely as well as this' (The Sunday Business Post)

'Rocket Men is particularly good at unpicking the tangle of motives behind kennedy's decision to send a man to the moon ... A punchy, popular history ... gripping, geekily detailed accounts of what it was like to ride a Saturn V or walk on another planet are interspersed with an equally lively take on the cold war strategising behind the mission' (Financial Times)

'A fascinating and definitive history of the race to the moon' (Economist)

'Rocket Men is particularly good because it tells the story so coherently' (BBC Focus)

'Rocket Men is an excellent read' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Refreshingly relevant and readable . . . absorbing' (Times Literary Supplement)

'Craig Nelson tells the tale in a way that seizes the spirit of the age' (London Review of Books)

'As good an introduction as any to mankind's greatest adventure' (BBC History Magazine)

Book Description

A pilgrimage into the unknown

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Timothy George on 29 Dec. 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book immensely - it is well written and really gives a sense of excitement about the Apollo programme.

However, be wary of the many factual errors that run throughout the book. I'm no scientist, and so at first I noticed nothing wrong. However, it struck me as odd that Nelson describes the launch of Apollo 4 as the following:

"Two F-1 rockets abruptly quit during liftoff, at which point the stack pulled a U-turn and headed screaming back at the ground"

That concerned me because when I searched the web for factual accounts & videos of Apollo 4, the launch is described, and indeed even filmed, as a perfect flight. How could such a glaring falsity make it into a (supposedly) thorough account of a scientific era?? It seems that the book was rushed to capitalise on the 40th annivesary of Apollo 11. Digging a little deeper I found a scientific community in absolute outrage at the number of mistakes in this book!

If you're a non-scientist and a complete newcomer to Apollo, it is an enjoyable read, but do not take every word for fact, as there seems to be an enormous community of people complaining about the lack of detailed research that went into this account of Mankind's greatest achievement.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If the Saturn V rocket had been as badly put together as this book, they'd still be picking up pieces of Neil Armstrong from Miami Beach. It's a great story - to boldy go to the moon, fuelled by Cold War rivalry and American 'get up and go'. There's the almost autistically single-minded Neil Armstrong, the ex-SS 'rockets come before everything' Werhner Von Braun, and the cringingly self-seeking President, Richard Nixon. Who could fail with this brew of a great story and oh-so-larger-than-life characters? Well, sadly Craig Nelson can. And largely because he has not really written a book, but rather collated a collection of notes. There are great chunks of often irrelevant quotes; the narrative inexplicably jumps from one topic to another; chronology is only vaguely applied, and large parts of the plot are missing (what, for example, happened to most of the early Apollos - I had to resort to Wikipeadia to find out). The writing style also leaves much to be desired, coming with a rich crop of cliches - 'Neil Armstrong was a test pilot's test pilot, an aeronautical engineer's engineer, and a loner's loner'; hyperbole - 'In fact the number of concerns about this first voyage to another celestial body was as infinite as dark matter'; and Star War's speak - 'The graviatational warp in space time then threw it like a slingshot to the dark side'. The lack of care taken by the author and his editors also shows in some factual errors - despite Nelson's claim at one point, the Russians were not in a position to send a man to the Moon in the aftermath of a failed Apollo 11 mission, nor indeed was Transylvania a part of Germany in 1894 (or at any other time).
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By Mr. Joe HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
(Note: This review is of the U.S. edition of the paperback.

"You can't imagine living in something that close; it's like being in an outhouse and after a while you just don't care, you know, and without getting into detail ... messy. But we didn't smell anything ... And I did notice a very strange odor when I got out of the spacecraft and it turned out to be fresh air." - Apollo 8 crewman Bill Anders on the ambience of the Command Module, from ROCKET MEN

"All the conditions necessary for murder are met if you shut two men in a cabin measuring eighteen feet by twenty and leave them together for two months." - Russian cosmonaut Valeri Ryumin, from ROCKET MEN

"Imagine this scenario: It's 2029, and a lunar mission lands at Tranquility Base. A crew of heroic young Indians - or Chinese - quietly folds and puts away America's sixty-year-old flag. If the world saw that on television, wouldn't the gesture be worth tens of billions of rupees or yuan?" - SF author Bruce Sterling on America's abdication of civilian-controlled world space leadership post-Apollo, from ROCKET MEN

In my sixty-two years, there are four events that I seemingly remember as if yesterday: the Kennedy assassination, the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, getting the news of my father's death, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But memory plays tricks. According to author Craig Nelson, the first step onto the Moon's surface occurred on July 20, 1969 at 9:56 PM CST, or 7:56 PM PST in California; yet I would've sworn that when I watched the event on television in Los Angeles it was mid-day. Evidently it was the landing I recall, not the initial EVA.

Note: An online encyclopedia has that first step being taken at 10:56 PM EDT, which would be 9:56 PM CDT, i.e.
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Format: Audio CD
"This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." -- Acts 18:25-26 (NKJV)

A major event such as the Apollo 11 mission deserves a careful history that's improved by the careful vetting that can only occur through many years of careful research. Unfortunately, this book had the vision to create such a book . . . but didn't do the work to get the details correct. So there's a lot of bizarre material in the book that must be there because of superficial research without capable fact-checking.

The big picture part of the story works pretty well, but the detailed picture isn't so pretty.

The storytelling also gets bogged down in details that don't add much to the story other than tedium.

I don't recommend that you read this book unless you have no reason to get all of the facts right. I doubt that.
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