on 26 June 2006
Having an interest in all things involved in space I was eager to read this book although I did expect it to be a hard read that the history books that I have read in the past.
Imagine my suprise therefore when I started reading it and found myself engrossed in it form thte outset.
It tracks the progress of the space programmes in the US and in the USSR mainly concentrating on the two chief rocket designers in the seperate countries. This book reads like a novel and is often filled with more background information (the power struggles that existed with the soviets for example are particularly interesting) than was expected. This is good as it gives a fuller account of the people involved in the two programmes.
The book finishes quite abruptly with the landing of the Apollo 11 mission. This is no so much of a problem as the mission signified the end of the space race and has been covered well in many other books. However, there seems to be more of an emphasis on the soviet space programme. Reasons for this may be due to the fact that much of the information regarding the soviet programme was kept classified for a long period of time whereas the American space programme was a very public affair.
Finally this is a well written book that reads much more like a novel than a historic account on the 20-30 years prior to the Apollo 11 landing. This is a book that would therefore appeal to all who have an interest in the space race.
on 31 October 2006
Reading this story, one finds it hard to shake off the feeling that there was some kind of fate in the stories of both Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev. Both were energetic, brilliant space visionaries, with the clout and charisma to see their dreams through, both should have died young, in the conflagrations of Stalin purge and war respectively, yet they didn't ... and was it a coincidence that both ended up on each side of the Cold War superpower divide, so both had both the political and monetary backing necessary to achieve their hugely expensive dreams? It was as if Something had decreed that it was necessary for humankind to get into space, and therefore Korolev and von Braun were selected by it to lead the way.
Cadbury's book is a captivating and clear-eyed account of this extraordinary tale. It is so good to see, at long last, a book that is not exclusively concerned with the American side of things, we are all getting a bit bored with that. Wonderful as it was, the American venture was not the only one, and it was, in any case, nowhere near as interesting as the Russian story. Due to the hardships the Russians endured, their tale has a depth and poignancy lacking in that of their rivals, not least because of the fact that Sergei Korolev was so much more attractive a personality than von Braun. Cadbury describes Korolev's suffering at the hands of Stalin's minions with great sensitivity, and her account of his early death is quite heartbreaking.
However, there are some caveats. For example, Cadbury makes several careless mistakes in quoting her sources - for example, when Korolev, knowing he was about to die, chose to relate his experiences in the Gulag to his two favourite cosmonauts, Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov, Cadbury states that he started to talk at four a. m, while Leonov, who was there, said he started talking at midnight and went on till four. This may seem a minor nit-pick, but it does seem to show that Cadbury did not pay proper attention to her primary sources.
Also, extraordinarily, Cadbury makes no connection between the agonizing heart condition (among other health problems) that Korolev suffered as a result of his gruesome ordeal in the worst of the Gulag camps - Kolyma. The implication given in the book is that they came out of nowhere. Korolev's illness and early death was a direct result of his cruel imprisonment, a fact that Cadbury does nothing to clarify. One would think that she is trying to excuse the evil, anti-human political philosophy that allowed such monstrous crimes to not only flourish but go unpunished. She does not make clear that Korolev's successes were in spite of the Communist society in which he lived, not because of it.
She also fails to relate another fascinating tale - the way in which Wernher von Braun was forced out of NASA once the moon race was won and he was no longer of any use to them. Whatever you may think of von Braun, this was out of order. And, while she goes into poignant detail about Korolev's last days, von Braun's own terrible death, from cancer, is only vaguely touched upon.
Yet the Americans richly deserved to win the space race - they did not cruelly abuse their scientists, or allow petty jealousies to sabotage their efforts, as the Soviets did. But it is good to hear of the other side of the story at last; and, despite some minor quibbles, it is difficult to imagine a more well-written and captivating account than this.
on 17 January 2006
This was bought for me as a gift and to be honest I expected it to join others of a similar vein on the bookshelf and stay there. Not so, I picked it up and find it so hard to put down. Not technical, not boring historical facts but easy to read and very interesting, if you're into this sort of thing. So well told you'd never believe that it was all true.
Written to accompany the bbc series of the same name, this is a non fiction book that relates the story of the american and russian race to be furthest ahead with their space programme. Starting at the end of the second world war and ending with the first moon landing, it tells the story by focussing on the two chief designers, von braun in america and korolev in russia.
Having seen and liked the tv series I thought this would just be a retread of that and I wouldn't get anything else out of it, but it turned to be quite an engrossing read. The style of the writing is good enough to make this work as a book in it's own right, rather than just a transcript of the tv show. An enjoyable and engrossing read.
on 4 January 2006
Having read some of her previous books, I read this one purely on the basis that it was written by Deborah Cadbury. As with her other books, she takes a piece of history and weaves the 'human' stories around it. This is a gripping story - even though you know the end results, it is unputdownable as the race between America and Russia speeds up. Who will put a man in space first? Who will land on the moon first?
For anyone interested in a 'what happened next?' I would suggest reading 'What do you care what other people think?' by Richard P Feynman which includes a substantial section on the American Space Shuttle diaster in the 1980's.
on 29 November 2006
It was the greatest race of the 20th century ... the race to rule the heavens ... a race between the two superpowers, Russia and the USA. It is an explosive thriller of international espionage and treachery. A dual biography of two driven men with one ambition; the brilliant Russian rocket designer Sergei Korolev and the German rocket genius Werner von Braun.
Falsely accused under the brutal Stalin regime of disruptive activities and forced to give a false confession, Korolev was sentenced to 10 years in the worst of the Gulag camps (network of labour camps) situated on the fringes of the Arctic Circle in Siberia where thousands died each month. Korolev survived and eventually good sense prevailed as the Russians realised this brilliant man had the ability to translate fundamental principles of physics into rocket design. But so fearful were the Russians that the West could assassinate Korolev he was known only as the "Great Desiner" and constantly shadowed by the KGB.
Werner von Braun was the designer of the fearsome V-2 rocket that had targeted London during the Second World War. When the conflict ended the USA for political and military requirments cynically secured his talents along with his fellow German scientists. But it wasn't until John F Kennedy was elected president that his dream of a Moon landing came closer.
After many risky and often fatal experiments, two men finally left the cradle of Earth and left their first footpints on another world ... the airless Moon
Set against the dark days of the Second World War and the Cold War years Space Race is a truly splendid read ... a gripping read. I found it hard to put down. I am sure you will too.
Being a child of the early 60s, I grew up during the Space Race. Like many around my age, my dad got me out of bed during the early hours of the morning to watch the moon landing.
I already knew the basics of the US space program, but I didn't know much at all about what happened in the USSR other than the name of Yuri Gagarin and the names of a few of their spacecraft.
This book certainly helped redress that fact, containing information that had been kept classified for decades. However, I still get the feeling that the whole truth on both sides may never really be made public.
The book is easy to read with little technical jargon. It does however become repetitive in some places where the same phrases are used over and over again.
I think the best thing this book does is to give a sense of just how far science, technology and even morality were being pushed to achieve the desired results. It also makes it very clear just what massive risks (particularly on the part of the USSR) were taken, and to the most part got away with, and just how brave the cosmo/astronauts were.
It also covers in great detail the politics involved on both sides, with this possibly being the main point of the book.
I would say I enjoyed reading this book, but for some reason it still left me thinking that we still don't know the whole story.
Entertaining review of the post-war space race between the US and the Soviet Union, told primarily through the eyes of the two men who led the teams designing each country's rockets. Sergei Korolev was the anonymous Russian "chief designer" - his identity kept a secret because the KGB were terrified the Americans would kill him. Across the Atlantic, Wernher von Braun designed the rockets that put man on the Moon. His career had started under the Nazis during World War Two and serious questions about the degree to which he was involved in slave labour were conveniently brushed under the carpet in order to draw on his expertise. As another reviewer notes it's hard not to feel particularly sorry for Korolev, labouring away for a cynical regime that treated him - and its citizens - with cynical disdain. In the end the best team won, but neither country emerges from this tale unblemished. Cadbury tells the story well, making sense of the technology without being snowed under by it and I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in either superpower - or the race to the Moon.
on 18 November 2007
I found that the reading and enjoyment of this book somewhat marred by the type of basic A level physics mistakes commonly made by my students when they do not consider the situation carefully. For example the centripetal force IS the force of gravity on the satellite or capsule, not just equal to it. Circular motion relies on unbalanced forces, in this case the centripetal force to accelerate the capsule towards the centre of the Earth; there is no outward force to be balanced and forces are not balanced by speed! I would have thought that these errors should have been spotted by the scientific proof-readers. The author undoubtedly has far greater literary skills than I, but in a science/technology based book the physics has to be correct. By all means read this book, it is paced well and as a story there is much to commend it.