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Great Guy, Astounding Acheivements, Average Biography
on 5 June 2006
There's much that other reviewers have already said concerning accuracy and consistency, and of course the style of writing interlacing Pete's round the world record attempt in a Lear Jet with episodes from his past. I have to say I agree, the style doesn't really work for me (that doesn't mean to say that you might not like it), and the detail particularly when depicting Pete's space flights (the thing he was *most* famous for) was weak.
That having been said, the innate likability of the man shines through the text. He was clearly not overly impressed with himself and understood his limitations and his humanity. Most of all his self-deprecating humour caught my imagination - a case in point is the plate showing a photo of his self-portrait in the sand. I wasn't previously aware of his personal struggle with dyslexia, which makes his acheivements in the cockpit all the greater and his appointment as an astronaut amazing. I had heard the story of the Mercury selection and Pete's description of the blank rorshach card from another Astronauts biography, however, it was listed as 'rumour'. I wonder if it is fact or posthumous hearsay.
Pete's life was hard, but only in comparison to his origins, many people start in abject poverty and have to struggle, although I do appreciate that his family's fall from wealth galvanised the man into refusing to quit at anything (Mercury selection and the dreaded electronic probe notwithstanding - hey even Braveheart would have said "to hell with this!"). I felt that some parts of the book were necessarily understated, particularly in dealing with the death of his son - it was an almost Forrest Gump moment, "That's all I have to say about that".
The relationship between Pete, Dicky-Dicky and Beano (the crew of Apollo 12) was for me one of the most interesting parts of the book, as is the way that the first, second and third intake of astronauts all seemed to know each other - notably Wally Schirra and Jim Lovell. Yes there is humour and the tendency to play around, but how much more can be acheived by a crew of really good friends? The skylab section was reasonable, but space geek that I am, I'd have liked to see more detail on the effects of long duration space flight - especially from one who was written off as "unsuitable for long-duration space flight" by the flight surgeons undertaking the Mercury Selection process.
Buzz Aldrin's foreward is worth a mention, as he appears to be someone who genuinely liked and respected Pete, and on my next visit to the States I'll certainly watch for the coloured lights in Pete's tree.
On the whole, I am not sorry I bought this book. While it is shaky in literary terms and not entirely accurate I enjoyed the anecdotes from Pete's life, especially the last meal and the autograph for the little girl signed "Your Pal, the Rocketman". The episode just seemed for me to epitomise Pete, the pilot, the astronaut, the joker and all round good guy.