8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Explosive Tales from the Early Days of Solid Fuel Rockets,
This review is from: Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons (Hardcover)
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been interested in rocketry, I had been aware of the pioneering work of Robert Goddard and how that work was eventually superseded by a variety of pioneers in the West.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 Pendle also does a fine job of explaining how the early trial-and-error pioneers are eventually superseded by those who can develop the theory and practice in more advanced ways.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.
For those who are interested in the occult, they will probably be disappointed in the book for its taking a neutral tone in regard to this subject. For those who prefer a strong religious perspective on every spiritual issue, they will be disappointed that the author isn't overtly disapproving of Mr. Parsons' involvement with the occult.
Ultimately, biographies rise or fall on the intrigue that the life of the subject presents to the reader. It's hard to imagine a more intriguing (but not exemplary) life than the one described in Strange Angel.
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