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Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons [Hardcover]

George Pendle
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
Price: 17.49 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

14 July 2005

BRILLIANT ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN EXPLOSION screamed the front-page headline of the Los Angeles Times on 18 June 1952. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer whose work had helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plotline into a reality, was at first mourned as a tragically young victim of mishandled chemicals. But as reporters dug deeper a shocking story emerged. Parsons had been performing occult rites and summoning spirits as a follower of Alesteir Crowley, and he was promptly written off as an embarrassment to science.

George Pendle tells Parsons' extraordinary life story for the first time. Fuelled from childhood by dreams of space flight, Parsons was a crucial innovator during rocketry's birth. But his visionary imagination also led him into the occult community thriving in 1930s Los Angeles, and when fantasy's pull became stronger than reality, he lost both his work and his wife. Parsons was just emerging from his personal underworld when he died - aged thirty-seven. In Strange Angel, Pendle recovers a fascinating life and explores the unruly consequences of genius.

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Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons + Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons + Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (14 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297848534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297848530
  • Product Dimensions: 3.4 x 16.4 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 668,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Pendle's superbly detailed and addictively readable book makes the reader fall in love with these young men's energy and enthusiasm. (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

...readable and engrossing. (Bryan Appleyard LITERARY REVIEW)

You couldn't make it up. (PHYSICS WORLD)

It's a cracker, that rarest of things a popular science book that's a page turner too (

elegantly written... Pendle with his graceful, measured prose... skilfully steers us through the quagmire of Parson's personal life (THE OBSERVER)

fascinating... we are introduced to a surreal 1930s world where dreams of space flight were inspired by popular science fiction... (FOCUS)

entertaining... intriguing... (CHEMISTRY WORLD)

Book Description

The other worldly life of rocket scientist John Whiteside Parsons (1914-1952)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rocket magic and black science 20 July 2005
How has this astonishing story remained so little known for so long? The self -taught rocket scientist who dabbled, and dabbled ever more deeply, in the dark arts of "magick", and became Aleister Crowley's principal acolyte in the USA, is one of the most intriguing characters of 20th century science. Like Isaac Newton, who was also fascinated by the occult, Jack Parsons was a man of boundless curiosity who - in all areas of his extraordinary professional and private life - thought and did the unthinkable until his untimely death in a mysterious explosion in 1952. George Pendle is an intelligent and lively writer who takes us down a hundred weird byways of Parsons' life without ever sensationalising his subject. Not that he has to: Parsons was sensational, both as a scientist and free spirit. Recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, fascinating and highly recommended 17 Jan 2009
An intelligent, well written and non-partisan assessment of rocket pioneer Jack Parsons. Pendle weaves together a myriad of sources, print and original interviews, as well as providing a full background to rocketry, Los Angles and Crowley and the OTO. Crucially, he does not take sides. Fascinating to discover that rocket science was once considered taboo by the scientific community. The result is a terrific read - it really is a page-turner.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
As someone who has long been interested in rocketry, I had been aware of the pioneering work of Robert Goddard and how that work was eventually superseded by a variety of pioneers in the West. Having grown up near Pasadena, I was very aware of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory there and its pivotal role in space exploration. I have also read a number of biographies that mention unexpected explosions at Cal Tech. Having long been a science fiction fan, I know the writings of many of the classic authors . . . but not much about them.
What a nice surprise it was when I stumbled onto Strange Angel, which provides much helpful perspective about all those interests of mine in the context of the short and explosive life of John Whiteside Parsons. George Pendle is quite successful at capturing the times -- distrust of rocketry as a research area, paranoia about Communism, fascination among the wealthy with the occult and the undeniable appeal for some of unrestrained sexual activity.
Beyond that slice of time, the book also appealed to my sense of how many new sciences develop . . . by lots of painful trial and error. I was especially intrigued by the problems of creating stable solid rocket fuels that wouldn't fail in painful ways. Mr. Pendle also does a fine job of explaining how the early trial-and-error pioneers are eventually superseded by those who can develop the theory and practice in more advanced ways.
John Whiteside Parsons lived a life that screamed for a strong hand to take him in the right direction . . . but which wasn't available. There's a classic element of human tragedy to the story that will intrigue almost any reader . . . and leave the reader with a vastly enlarged sense of what the human mind can contain.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Angel 19 May 2011
Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendle is a very riveting and informative story. The following are some of the exciting events that are discussed in this book regarding a man who was known as a brilliant rocket scientist:

Pg. 42: The close relationship that John had with his grandfather is discussed.
Pg. 147: This page lists some of the influences that shaped John's spiritual views. One of the books that is mentioned as having a strong impact is The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer.
Pg. 202: This page discusses how Parson's self-confidence was at a high level when he had just invented a whole new type of rocket fuel. This chapter also touches on his very colorful and exciting love life. I admit that I believe,in my humble opinion, any movie and/or play that is based on the details of his personal life would be very interesting and compelling to watch.
Pg. 239: This portion of the book discusses how Mr. Parsons would work in harmony at his job. One of the advisors that he turned to for further fuel experiments is chemist Linus Pauling.
The book also touches on some of the well-known men that knew John Parsons such as Aleister Crowley, Robert Heinlen (he wrote the science fiction book "Stranger in a Strange Land"), and Ron L. Hubbard (who is known for the controversial religion that is Scientology).

What fascinated me the most about what was included in "Strange Angel" was that it was listed how John Parsons was instrumental in the creation of the rocket, and he was self-taught. This information is inspirational to me because it confirms that brilliance/genius exists in people from various educational backgrounds (high school graduate, bachelor's degree, master's degree, Ph.D. etc.).
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4.0 out of 5 stars good read but felt something missing 31 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed this book and was hooked throughout however felt as if big portions of this mans life where either not mentioned and there was at times no real depth. I left the book knowing about this man but not knowing him. Too short and too superficial to be amazing but well written and would recommend.
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