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on 27 June 2017
Really interesting read. You really feel for the guy.
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on 23 April 1999
Based on a recent documentary, this easily read, informative documentary reflects the accesability of the authors original intentions - to examine the life of Yuri Gagarin, one of the worlds most famous men yet one most people know nothing about.
While the standard biographical contact - Yuri's early life in Nazi occupied Russia, his early career and character - is enjoyable enough, the book comes into it's own when it starts to examine the oftem perilous early years of the Russian Space program.
It's a truly fascinating history of one of mankinds greatest acheivements. One of the books great strengths is that it unearths the secret histories of so many remarkable scientists who's achievements have, to date, been largely eclipsed by the enigmatic First Cosmonaut. However the book avoids excessive technobabble, balancing these aspects with explanations of the emotional driving forces behind the Space Race.
The story of Yuri Gagarin doesn't end with his historic 90 minues in space - rather it can be seen as the beginning of the second, sadder story. Touted as a triumph of Socialist achievement Gagarin was flaunted world wide on a series of gruelling diplomatic engagements which initially showcased his remarkable patience, charm and genorosity, but ultimately drove him to drink, depression and a series of embarrasing incidents that would prevent him from ever returning to space.
Even the unpredictable and untimely death of Yuri Gagarin at the hands of an ancient training jet is clouded with secrecy, yet the authors refrain from pandering to conspiracy theorists and treats this event with an unbiased examination of the evidence.
If one criticism can be levelled at the book it's that this unbiased view is not evident throughout, however with a character of Yuri's status and a story so gripping it is dificult not to be in awe.
A very entertaining read for those with even the most passing of interests in space or 20th Century history. Recommended.
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on 18 June 2001
I found this book one of the best space biographies I have read. Gagarin's childhood during the 2nd World War is dealt with in an interesting manner but thankfully is fairly brief, thankfully because everybody who reads this book will want to know mainly about his cosmonaut career. One of the key elements of Gagarin's life was his relationship with other people and the effects on his career. His crucial associations with Korolev (The Chief Designer) and Nikita Krushchev are covered very well. As is his rivalry with Gherman Titov, with whom he vied to be the first man in space and become a living legend. Fellow cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who was close to Gagarin for many years, makes many telling contributions throughout the book. The book more or less stamps on the conspiracy theory that says that Gagarin was murdered by the Brezhnev regime, saying that his death was a tragic if mysterious air accident. The book is well written and easy to read, is full of interesting facts and I recommend it whole heartedly.
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on 29 March 2016
A fun read about a fascinating man who had an exciting life. Sadly a little light, because the Cold War era secrecy and labyrinthine Soviet bureaucracy leave gaps in the story. But what a story! How a working class boy ended up the first man in space. How the Americans were beaten, and the real cost of that Soviet victory. The writer carries a lot of hegemonic perception with him - instead of approaching the topic with an open mind, he has an understanding of Soviet society shaped by a lifetime of miseducation and propaganda, and this occasionally jars when Doran comes up against a fact or situation that doesn't fit with his understanding. Fortunately he just runs with it, rather than denying the evidence in front of him as other writers do. Still, there's plenty here for the casual reader, and whilst it isn't completely fair or balanced, it's a sympathetic biography - sympathetic to Gagarin and his colleagues - that doesn't waste time on endless anti-Soviet propaganda like some historians do. Well worth a few hours of your time.
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on 8 June 2013
Gagarin is a pioneer of the calibre of Darwin, Marco Polo, or Vasco De Gama, yet he was also emblematic of a failed ideology expressed too often in terms of simple thuggish tyranny. As such he is less well recognized in the West than say, Armstrong, Aldrin, or Sagan. Still, as a figure of those times his first flight into space was an absolute turning point, some would say an omega point, of the history of human exploration and expansion. This work thus fulfils a need -- it's well written, readable, and seems to be well researched. As it is the only bio of YG of which I know I cannot critique this as a history, but it seems like a balanced view of this brave and good man's difficult life and accomplishment.
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on 24 May 2011
Yuri Gagarin is one of the most famous men of the 20th Century, due to being the first man in space. But how much do we actually KNOW him? I didn't know much about him at all, so I bought this book.
I'm very glad I did. It adds plenty of colour to Gagarin's legend, and the book does a great job of painting Gagarin as just a normal guy who did an extraordinary thing. A very highly recommended book to anyone interested in 20th Century History or Space Exploration.
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on 8 July 2011
A brilliant inside story to the worlds first space explorer. Written under pressures from the old "Iron Curtain" secrecy laws this is the closest we will get to the truth of what truly happened during the space race.
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on 16 November 2016
A fascinating read for many reasons. In some ways it's a pity that the book focusses so much on Gagarin himself. Based on this book I'd say he was a pleasant guy, and obviously a competent pilot, but as the subject of a biography he's not all that compelling. Personable, decent, with a slight weakness for booze and women, but there's not much else to him. What's more interesting here is the way he's used (and discarded) by the government as a symbol. I'd have preferred a book which explored the Soviet space program as a whole, and the hints we get of that here, and the stories about some of the engineers, administrators and politicians involved are much more illuminating.
Especially eye-opening are the tales of how doctors ruthlessly experimented on potential cosmonauts, and the way in which lives were casually sacrificed, often through incompetence or political expediency, in the name of progress. Or, more often, the *appearance* of progress for purely propaganda purposes.
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on 7 April 2013
mike gale

Astonishing depth and breadth, every angle was covered and covered well. I'm not only enlightened and charmed by the wonderful story of a true hero and decent bloke, human for sure but decent nonetheless, but I also feel really satisfied and appreciative of the research the authors have undertaken in what must have been an incredibly frustrating climate of typical Russian secretiveness.
Well done!
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on 20 December 2000
A tremendous book, which gives a real insight into the workings of the early Soviet Space Programme, and the character of Yuri Gagarin himself. I enjoyed it immensely.
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