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The Right Stuff [Hardcover]

Tom Wolfe
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 1979
Looks at the experiences of some of the first astronauts in order to ascertain what makes them tick and why they are prepared to put their lives at such enormous risk. This book won the American Book Award for Non-Fiction.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st Edition edition (Aug 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374250324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374250324
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,017,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Wolfe was born in 1931. He has written for The Washington Post and The New York Herald Tribune and is credited with the creation of 'New Journalism'. Between 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel The Bonfire of the Vanities in serial form for Rolling Stone magazine. The novel was published in 1987. It was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year. He is the author of sixteen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."

Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne.

Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death ... magnificent."-- "People "It is Tom Wolfe at his very best ... technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic -- The Right Stuff is superb." -- "The New York Times Book Review "Breathtaking ... epic ... There are images and ideas in The Right Stuff that glisten like a rocket screaming to the heavens." -- "Los Angeles Times "Romantic and thrilling ... One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril." -- "The Boston Globe "It's magic ... the best book I have read in the last ten years."-- "Chicago Tribune Also by Tom Wolfe: The Bonfire of the VanitiesThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestFrom Bauhaus to Our HouseThe Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline BabyThe Painted WordThe Right StuffMauve Gloves & MadmenClutter & VineIn Our TimeThe Pumphouse GangRadical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers Available wherever Bantam Books are sold --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit too folksy for my taste. 3 Jun 2010
Wolfe focuses on the culture and social mores that surrounded the Mercury space programme. He is excellent at developing the characters so that they come vividly to life. There are times when I wondered how real the characters were - they almost fitted Wolfe's angle on the story too well which left me asking how closely Wolfe's perspective matched those of others. But Wolfe does tell the story really well. Except that, after a while, I got rather weary of the folksy, chatty style, in particular when recounting some of the key incidents, when very specific perspectives were taken, thus leaving me with more questions than answers.

I can understand why it is generally regarded as a classic, and why so many people rate it so highly, but it just didn't quite work for me. I'm glad to have read it, but won't be rushing back to it in the future (I actually preferred the film - not a common occurrence).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most wonderful stuff 23 Jan 2006
Tom Wolfe is an outstanding writer, and this book shows him at his best. Wolfe recounts the careers of the first US astronauts, from their early hell-raising lives as test pilots to the first space flights and beyond, in exquisite, entertaining prose. His descriptions, whether of a crashed pilot "burned beyond recognition", or the minute-by-minute experience of the first astronauts in the Mercury programme, are mesmerising. Perhaps his greatest achievement is to describe the astronauts (eg the Peugeot-driving John Glenn) both as heroic, larger-than-life figures and as real, believable human beings.
Summary: an extraordinary book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A flying experience 15 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Tom Wolfe at his best! The work put into writing a book like this is immense, I think Wolfe used six years. It shows. No need to be interested in aircrafts or space, reading this book will make you soar into the blue sky!
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is my all time favourite book, I have read it so many times. Marvel at the bravery of the seven whos right stuff takes them to the top of the top of the aviation pyramid (even though on Mercury no piloting skills are actually needed - a monkey can do the job). Belly laugh from page to page as the boys leave five gallon urine samples for the nurse, the wifes have all traces of wens, hickies, boil volcanoes, and acne trenches brushed out for the pages of Life magazine. Chortle as Ham the chimp attempts to dismember the white smocks who zap him with bolts to the feet or feed banana pellets as he flys his mission to perfection and the one eyes (photographers) who scream and push to take a picture on his safe return to earth. Watch as the boys, who wish to remain seen as pilots have the mercury capsule renamed as mercury spacecraft, a cosmetic change in name only. Even if you have no interest in early spaceflight this book will enchant you with it's snapshot of America in the 40's to 60's and it's tale of bravery, rivelry, ambition, and comradeship told throughout with rib tickling humour to the fore.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True heroism 12 July 2007
The Right Stuff: 'A man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning gap - and then go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day ... '

This is one of the most unusual and best non-fiction books I have ever read. The film version of this book is also ground breaking. I love this book.

One thought expressed in the book, and the film, is when someone says the astronauts are only doing what a monkey can do (because eveything is automated) but as Yeager points out: A monkey does not know he is sitting on a rocket that could explode at any moment, unlike the astronaut.

In an age we have footballers portrayed as heroes simply for kicking a ball or advertising perfume, and soldiers wanting to sue for stress, it is refreshing to read about true heroes in an age when celebrity actually meant something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book about the American space pioneers 2 July 2001
By A Customer
This is primarily the story of Project Mercury and its seven astronauts who became media celebrities during the golden age of space travel, when NASA had an almost unlimited budget to catch and then beat the Soviets in the Space Race.
As if this is not enough, the book touches on Chuck Yeager's exploits in the X-1 when breaking the sound barrier in October 1947 and also gives an account of the achievements of the X-15 Spaceplane and its pilots.
The book tells of the hero worship that the Mercury Seven and their wives received (especially John Glenn and Alan Shepherd), including ticker tape parades, meeting the President and addressing Congress. This is hard to believe today in an age when we take space travel for granted. But it also goes into detail of the mission foul ups of Scott Carpenter and Gus Grissom and tells many anecdotes of great interest that Wolfe obtained by interviewing flight and non flight members of Project Mercury. A great book, I cannot fault it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever wondered why man landed on the Moon? 16 Jan 2001
By A Customer
A fascinating account of the lives and events of the test pilots and their families during the American Mercury space program. Mr Wolfe details the prevailing mood of the country at the time and the political expediency that financed such an ambitious undertaking. This is a very easily readable book, avoiding delving too deeply into technical matters and containing an appropriate amount of dry humour. Particularly intriguing is the interaction between the fast-paced, energetic astronauts and the bland, dispassionate scientists. Some of the anecdotes have most likely received some embellishment, either from Mr Wolfe himself or by those recounting the tales to him, but this does not detract at all from making it a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read. Real modern classic
Loved it. Good read from 13 to 113 years
Published 12 days ago by Mr. D. G. Lang
5.0 out of 5 stars THE RIGHT STUFF by Tom Wolfe
This is the story of the post-WWII American jet test pilots and of how they became involved in the Space Race, leading to the Mercury programme. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Yohji
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great writing from a writer who immerses himself into the subject matter involved.
Published 24 days ago by Bob G
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Read at a sitting'
This is the only book I can remember ever having read from start to finish in the proverbial single sitting, albeit that I was on an eight hour flight at the time. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Stratman
4.0 out of 5 stars Great historical saga of early space endevour
This book furnished me with many answers to how and why the US space program fumbled its way forward in its early days. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Roy L Whitechurch
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dawn of the Space Age.
"The Right Stuff" brings the dawn of the space age to the broadest of audiences. Written in a sharp, entertaining style, Wolfe combines the science and the drama of the Mercury... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Owen Zupp
3.0 out of 5 stars Hokey
Never mind the quality, just feel the testosterone. I'm kind of fascinated by the whole, mad race for the stars in the fifties and sixties. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Frootle
5.0 out of 5 stars Rarely do I spend my money so well
Rarely do I spend my money so well. 'The Right Stuff' is easily worth ten times the amount I paid for it, both in terms of its informative value, as well as in the level of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Lukasz Golowanow
2.0 out of 5 stars where's the wit?
Supposedly, this is America's premier satirist penning one of his most celebrated books. But this book's as tame as a space dog on sedatives. Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2011 by Ray Willmott
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime
A truly wonderful account of the early US space
adventure and the spirit of it's participants (&
some of those unfairly left behind). Read more
Published on 24 May 2011 by DrTris
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