Top positive review
Try and ignore the negatives and you will really enjoy this book
on 14 May 2016
Having read this book twice, and enjoyed it both times, I feel that this book hovers between 3 and 4 stars. On balance 4 stars is fair, and I am feeling generous.
James Hansen covers all aspects of Neil Armstrong's life in exhaustive detail, to the point that he tries to recreate Armstrongs family tree back to Scotland in the Middle Ages. Occasionally this level of detail can become tedious and there from time to time there is an overabundance of acronyms. It also feels that despite the all access pass to Armstrongs life, Hansen has sometimes struggled to get under the skin of his subject with the result that Armstrong remains an frustrating engima at times. This last point might be overly harsh as many of those who knew Armstrong for decades sais similar things. My final criticism is that Hansen can take a sneering tone with those who dare to voice a differing opinion of Armstrong to his own, this even extends to Chuck Yeager and to Buzz Aldrin - both famous flyers in their own right, but reduced to prima donnas whose achievements could never hope to match up to Armstrong's. This reaches such a point that Hansen suspects Aldrin of deliberately not taking many photos of Armstrong when they were on the Moon.
One you get past these points, the book has many incredibly positive parts. The NASA stage of Armstrongs life, especially Apollo 11, was excellently covered and you could sense the excitement build as well as picture yourself on the moon with the two men. Similarly, the chapter on the death of Karen, Armstrongs young daughter, was one of the most moving chapters I've read in any book. I also liked that the post Nasa career was covered almost in passing - as one senses that Armstrong wanted to live his life. Although, as mentioned, Hansen takes issue with figures such as Yeager and Aldrin, he also can be critical of Armstrong when required, primarily concerning his long (and I suspect often problematic) marriage to Janet.
The criticisms of the book are easier to list than the positives, as the general tone and ease of reading of the book enables you to fly through it and learn as much as possible about Neil Armstrong as he would let you. Also, it has made me want to buy other books about the Space Race, particularly Michael Collins autobiography.
It might be a while before I re-read this book, but when I will return to it in the future for the positives in this books far outweigh the negatives.