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Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher Von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race Hardcover – 3 Nov 2009

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (3 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059106
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 2.5 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 167,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"[Biddle] assembles facts, omissions, or inconsistencies in von Braun's postwar accounts of the V-2 that cast doubt on von Braun's minimization of his knowledge about the concentration camp where the missile was constructed...A stern, prosecutorial portrait of the famous German American rocketeer." -- Gilbert Taylor

About the Author

Wayne Biddle won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times reporting on the "Star Wars" anti-missile project. He has written three nonfiction books and is a member of the writing seminars faculty at the Johns Hopkins University. He lives near Baltimore, Maryland.


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Format: Hardcover
Despite one famous Britsh comentator stating in print that he believes Wernher Von Braun's assurances that he was unaware of slave labour being used in the V2 prgram, this book confirms my long held suspicions that all was not good in Von Braunn's background. He joined the Nazi party before WW2 broke out, not in 1940 as he stated. Not only was he in the SS, he was of relatively high rank (Major). He must at the least have "known" what was going on - he was a very senior manager in the Peenemunde project from it's start until the Nazi capitulation. Von Braun's title of "Professor" was granted by Hitler himself. One French former inmate of the Dora concentration camp is also quoted in the book of being brutally assaulted by Von Braun personally. An innocent bystander he certainly was not. His claim that he was "really only interested in space travel" is exposed as a sham, and given the number of people driven forcibly to death building the V2, it is a monstrous sham.

The book also shows how after the war the US Government turned a very blind eye to the Nazi activities of Von Braun and his boss, General Walter Dornberger. And not just the US government; at least one British learned institution honoured Von Braun in the early 1950s. The book makes clear how Von Brauns charisma, flare for self promotion and showmanship allowed him to exploit not only Hitler and Himmler but also three US Presidents.

Having said that, I found the book difficult to read for one overpowering reason, that is that the footnotes, instead of being more conevntionally simply referring to sources, are in numerous instances whole tracts of texts, often stretching to half a page.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x927b009c) out of 5 stars 15 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92231654) out of 5 stars More History Than Biography 15 Oct. 2009
By George Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In short, this book is not what I expected. All told, it contains about 240 pages. If we disregard the preliminary pages (Table of Contents, etc.), the brief introduction, the index, the bibliography and the many pages of notes, we are left with 152 pages of main text. At least the first third of this comprises mainly of historical information on Germany during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as some von Braun family history. Wernher von Braun is briefly mentioned here and there, but the mention of events in his life becomes gradually more frequent as the book progresses beyond the first third. The development of rocketry technology is also superficially touched upon routinely, but becomes a bit more prominent in the later parts of the book. The last couple of chapters contain the most information on Wernher von Braun's life and accomplishments. Evidence for von Braun's "darker side" is suggested only in a few paragraphs where the building of rockets in Nazi Germany using slave labour is discussed. The writing style is rather formal, quite authoritative, but at times a bit awkward. This book would likely appeal more to serious history buffs interested in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century than to those interested in Wernher von Braun's life or a detailed history of rocketry.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92231600) out of 5 stars Elusive German space puzzle 22 Jan. 2010
By wogan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Wayne Biddle attempts to solve some of the lingering questions concerning Wernher von Braun's work during WWII. `Dark side of the Moon' is short, in that there are less than 152 pages written about von Braun. There are almost 70 pages of notes and an index which even includes indexed notes. With so much information and Biddle's statement in the introduction that there is new information since von Braun's death and time elapsed after the war and the opening of especially East Germany, one would think that you would find some of that new information in his work. It seems to be sadly lacking. Biddle bases most of his premise that von Braun was not the innocent rocket scientist in his work at Peenemunde; most of the accusations concern von Braun's knowledge of the use of slave labor. All of this has been brought up before, including the photograph of von Braun in an SS uniform.

Who knows for sure what happened or what is in the heart of a man? What is certain is that von Braun used both the German and US government to satisfy his desire to build rockets, but that is not news either. The Americans wanted to believe his innocence in WWII atrocities and Biddle claims this has been covered up; but seems to present no new evidence. What he does write are many snide comments and innuendos such as commenting on von Braun's arm cast, when he was captured, saying it resembled the `party salute'; he states Redstone Arsenal was well on its' way to resembling Peenemunde and then states Cape Canaveral shows a remarkable resemblance as well.

Biddle dismisses von Braun's arrest during the war as a lucky break...`no one has been inclined to shed light on the story`s factual basis or historical context', even stating the recollections of Albert Speer might not believed concerning this episode where von Braun claimed pressure to join the SS.
I found this book to be sadly lacking any new information and much of what is written becomes contradictory.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9223106c) out of 5 stars Interesting, But Inconclusive in Von Braun's Case 21 Oct. 2009
By OtherWorlds&Wisdom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having recently read the excellent biography Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, I wondered how much more this book would add. The questions about Von Braun are: How much did Von Braun know about what was going on in Nazi Germany and how much was he a part of it?

The first question is easy, obviously he to some extent knew what the Nazis were doing. The second, and the one this book focuses on, is the harder question to answer. Von Braun was always evasive, at times contradictory, and reluctant to talk about pre-1945.

The reasons may be: 1. He wanted to forget the horrors of the war, 2. He was ashamed that he couldn't or didn't change things at the time, or 3. He was more part of the Reich than he admitted. If #3 is true, perhaps he changed, and perhaps he didn't. He left virtually nothing to answer these questions. Ultimately, Biddle's book doesn't contain any smoking guns, and most of the circumstantial evidence is already known, but it does cause doubt.

Taken as a whole, Biddle's argument seems to point to Von Braun hiding things. But which of the three reasons were behind his evasiveness? Was it really #3? We may never know. However, our acceptance of thousands of Nazis, and the blackout of their pasts (some of which were problems), is a troubling part of our history. How did we choose which Nazis to prosecute and which to protect?
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92260420) out of 5 stars This One Falls Flat 17 Oct. 2009
By Kevin Blankinship - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is more a protest than a history, written from the perspective of an American liberal academic. Having read several other biographies of Wernher von Braun, there is very little new here, with the only new photo being of von Braun standing aside the Mercedes he drove while at NASA. Biddle does not present a convincing case of his claim that von Braun was of bad character. Instead, it seems to confirm Michael Neufeld's characterization of him in Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War as a raconteur, who can sometimes make a story bigger in the telling than it actually was.

What many are looking for nowadays regarding Wernher von Braun, Peenemeunde, and NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, is an in-depth technical history, more akin to Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology) by Donald Mackenzie. But as a 'rocket scientist' myself who has developed weapons for my own country, the USA, the past 30+ years, I find Biddle's "j'accuse" without merit.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x922abccc) out of 5 stars Drips With Contempt 25 Mar. 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the reason this book is so short is that it's essentially the prosecution's case against Wernher Von Braun. The charges: 1. He was an unrepentant Nazi, 2. He was a spoiled rich kid who was merely a figurehead/conman for the development of rocketry and the space program.

The author presents a fairly convincing case for the former, though frankly, that's fairly easy to do. Clearly, Von Braun knew what was going on at the Dora camp where most of the V2 production effort was going on. He was also clearly willing to use the military to advance his supposed interest in the peaceful use of rockets.

Much less convincing is the latter charge. The author's contempt for Von Braun is so great that any statement in praise of his brilliance is met with suspicion or downplayed. Part of the problem is that the author decides to end his story not long after Von Braun comes to the US. Certainly, the many still living people involved in the US Space Program who owe Von Braun no particular obligation could tell us exactly how great a genius he was or wasn't. Also peculiar in this, is the lack of focus on the actual development of the A4 (V2). The author takes great delight in telling us about the bumbling of the German rocket enthusiasts (including Von Braun) earlier efforts but doesn't talk much about how they eventually did succeed in delivering a working rocket that while not a great success as a weapon did succeed in becoming the basis of very successful weapons.

The author is further hindered by his own underlying sketicism toward science and technology (in the intro, he finds interest in Von Braun's US work "fetishtic" when of course, that's the whole reason he's still remembered at all). I suspect he has a leftist distrust of science and scientists, one can almost hear Keith Olbermann doing the book on tape and sneering at Von Braun's discussion of space travel.
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