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The Right Stuff, off-stage,
This review is from: The Astronaut Wives Club (Hardcover)
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For many of us who grew up in the 60's and 70's the story of the American space race was a background theme to your life. The names of the astronauts come to mind like other generations had film star heroes - Conrad, Borman, Lovell... they were almost like family. Everything about them is known and familiar - nothing more to say.
Or maybe there is. Because there was another story that has not been told (truthfully at any rate), until this remarkable and fascinating book. The tale of the partners and families of those who went into space - the women who we saw in the background, always impossibly glamorous, impossibly stoic, impossibly "perfect". We maybe suspected that this was not so. Now we know.
From the wives of the original seven Mercury astronauts - the wives of the men who had "The Right Stuff" - to the later Apollo wives, this book tells their story. Moreover the real story, not the one from NASA or the magazines of the time.
It is well written, and covers a lot in a relatively short book. The lack of detail at times is odd - the drama of Apollo 13 is covered in barely two pages, but then maybe there is little new to say on that? On the other hand John and Annie Glenn's story (the one about the Vice President and the launch delay) is repeated almost word-for-word from The Right Stuff , so was also not new. On the other hand it really is a very good story, and perhaps bears repeating.
However, what we do get is the development of a support system between the wives - warts and all. The way in which the second tranche of wives - called in for the Gemini programme - were not exactly welcomed with open arms by the "originals"; the slightly shocking attitude towards wives whose husbands died.
Its also a tale of relationships under huge stress - and small wonder that so many failed - and also the attitudes from a time now (thankfully) gone (would wives of modern-day astronauts be presented in the way that these were? I think not).
If I had a significant criticism it would be that, if you were not a child of the space race, I think you'd find the book a bit hard to follow. Names fly in and out with often little explanations, and first names are used almost all of the time. Some sort of Dramatis Personae would have been a help (and maybe an index too) as the book really does assume am awful lot of prior knowledge. That is maybe why my wife - who is not interested in matters space related - found she could not get into the book.
But for children of the space age it's great. We get to see our heroes from a whole new - human - angle. A memorable book, long overdue.