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Customer Review

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Altiora pete, 14 April 2008
This review is from: Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest (Paperback)
You will find devastating criticism of this book on the American Amazon site, amazon.com. Some of these relate to the NYU edition of 2006. The grosser errors, such as account that Apollo 9 went into lunar orbit, have been corrected in the Vintage Books edition of 2008 (page 230 of both editions). The author now correctly says that the testing of the docking manoeuvres by Apollo 9 took place in earth orbit. Similarly the statement that "An explosion ripped through the outer skin of the Command Module" of Apollo 13 has been corrected, placing the explosion within the Service Module (page 250 in both editions). According to one posted comment, deGroot was deeply embarrassed by these errors. Still the basic errors were made and undermine the scholarship.

The author is dismissive of Russian technology, crediting them with merely having oversized rockets (designed to lift their oversized nuclear warheads) but being far behind in all other aspects. This criticism is nothing new, but was also questioned long ago. When Lunik III successfully circled the moon, sending back pictures of the far side, Time of October 12 1959 pointed out that this required an accomplished package of instruments (by 1959 standards) as well as a powerful rocket.

I have no problems with the phrase "Dark Side of the Moon" as a title and metaphor. But on page 98 Lunik III is said to have taken "snapshots of the dark side". It would have been the height of folly for the Russians to have photographed the far side while it was in darkness; the published photographs show that it was not. Does the author, in the one sentence where he ought to drop the metaphor, not know the difference between the dark side and the far side of the moon?

The relative value of manned and unmanned exploration of both the moon and Mars is again becoming topical. DeGroot understands the value of near earth and geo stationary satellites for their utility in providing communication, navigation and observation. He shows no appreciation of the scientific interest of investigating the moon. It is perhaps not within his expertise to tell us how this might better have been done in the 1960s using unmanned missions. Given the success of the Mars Rovers Opportunity and Spirit, at very modest cost, the value of a manned mission to Mars needs to be questioned very seriously. Similarly, the case against a manned return to the moon would be strengthened by consideration of the unmanned exploration that is now beginning in earnest and what might be achieved by a series of unmanned lunar rovers capable of returning samples to earth.

The quotations from the Times, Telegraph and Observer on the book's cover are all complementary. I have more sympathy with the view of Robin McKie writing in the Guardian (3rd February 2008) "DeGroot, a sharp and witty writer, has prepared his case assiduously, though for my taste he overstates it badly, wilfully ignoring the romance and chutzpah of what was, after all, the 20th-century's crowning human achievement. More to the point, Dark Side of the Moon lacks any primary sources or interviews and is, essentially, a cuttings job, albeit a clever, enjoyable one."

I suspect that deGroot is a man with a profound social conscience who believes that the billions spent on the Space Race should have been spent on social welfare. He may well be right. Altiora pete. But writing an entire book saying how the money should not have been spent sounds like carping. Like most readers who have submitted reviews, I cannot recommend this book.
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Location: Manchester, United Kingdom

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