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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.
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on 4 April 2009
This is a tough book to read and if you are looking for a cosy biography of the great man, forget it. As others have pointed out, there is an incredible amount of detail and for that reason it can be very hard going at times. Some of the information given is such that you read the words but almost immediately forget them because you want to move on to the action.
It does take almost a third of the book to get to the Apollo program as we get to find out about Neil's childhood, his studies, his time in the Navy and then as a test pilot first.
Having said all that there is much to admire here and a phenomenal amount of work clearly went into researching and writing this account of one of the great heroes of the 20th Century. This is not just about Neil though and it tells the tale of all those who helped make that momentous landing possible, the people who Neil met along the way to what he became and his friends and family too.
I enjoyed much of it though because I have a particular fascination for the space race having just missed out on it. 1967 was a little late to appreciate anything of it really.
I have only given it 3 stars because I feel a little less of that detail would have made it better. Not the most accessable of books but, in places, a great insight into a clearly very private man and his incredible story.
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on 2 January 2006
My first memory of watching TV (aged 4) was the lunar landing in 1969. Ever since then, I have been interested in the technology (now seemingly primitave) and characters of the people who made this possible - most significantly Neil Armstrong. This book is long overdue, and portrays Armstrong as a down to earth (pardon the pun) person, who probably finds the adulation rightly accorded to him as difficult to understand as he simply would view being the first man on the moon as fulfilling his job. The book deals in detail with Armstrong's painstaking flight training, including combat missions over Korea in the 50s, and also explores the relationship between him and the two other members of Apollo 11 with interesting insights. The story of how Armstrong became first out of the lunar module in preference to Buzz Aldrin is explained in full. The book only increases my admiration for the first man, and given the thoughtful and precise way in which his story has been told I recommend this book to you.
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on 3 December 2005
Th enigma of Neil Armstrong is that he is, simultaneously, both the best and least known astronaut. His historical status as Commander of Apollo 11 is assured, yet he remained a largely unknown quantity in terms of personality even to some of his closest colleagues.
In this massively detailed book, Hansen investigates this dichotomy, devoting many chapters to Armstrong's early life and his experiences as a Navy pilot in the Korean War, as well as his early career as a test pilot. Hansen considers, amongst other factors, whether Neil's relationship with his father, nomadic early life and a family tragedy, have influenced his personality.
The chapters which deal with Armstrong's 2 spaceflights, on Gemini VIII and Apollo 11, are covered very impressively, as well as his time flying the X-15. Hansen approaches each chapter in intricate detail, meaning that this book may well not appeal to the casual reader, but for serious space history enthusiasts, it is an absolute must.
Overall, Hansen has succeeded in his ambition to produce a scholarly and historical biography of one of the most well known and important people of our age
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Having looked forward to a 'life of Neil Armstrong book' for most of my life being a real Apollo fan. I did enjoy reading First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong. This book is well researched, has some good pictures and for the first time the reader can learn about the 'real Neil Armstrong'. There is much more to Mr.Armstrong than being the first man on the moon.

A great read - will be liked by space buffs, maybe a little dry for those who are not!
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on 2 September 2009
For anyone interested in the space race and also military aviation this is an essential purchase.

In addition to covering the life and personality of Neil Armstrong it provides a wonderfully detailed look at his Gemini and Apollo missions with contributions from many of the other personalities involved - Aldrin, Collins, Scott, Cernan, Kranz, Slayton, Bean etc etc. Not only that, it provides another angle on the community of astronauts and the politics within NASA and strives to reveal the truth behind many of the myths that surround the quest to land on the moon and the mission itself.

It's a weighty paperback but an easy read and only concentrates on technical detail where it would be an omission not to.

Highly recommended and most enjoyable.
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on 6 February 2012
I was 9 years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and fascinated then, as now, by the whole story. In fact, I think that I watched every single broadcast bar one of the Moon landings. This book though disappointed me. It is not that it lacks detail: there is a huge amount of detail; although, surprisingly, in the question of the Moon landing very much less than in other places. At times though the detail gets tedious: was it really necessary to research his grades through university and give a lengthy (several pages) description of his results? When there was a flying incident, is it really necessary to go into quite so much detail, especially rumour and innuendo about whose fault the accident was; some of the quotebacks from colleagues come across as simply bitchy (similarly, there are some comments in the text about a competing book, which was published around the same time that also come across as unnecessarily bitchy)? In contrast, in other moments, such as the strains after the death of his daughter, or the marriage breakup, there are just brief and tantalising hints of Armstrong's role being culpable, without any of the detail given about other events. There is a neat, if very brief, section on debunking some of the Moon legends. One is left though with a feeling of disappointment that the crew of Apollo XI was so curiously disfunctional, something that the book makes no real attempt to hide: why for this mission of all missions was the crew not picked to be a team that knew, liked and trusted each other?
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on 4 May 2006
Okay, all my heroes thorugh life have been space-orientated - Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and so on, so I am a bit biased towards a really good space read. And this book is just that; it is lengthy but it is excellent - so detailed, so descriptive that you cannot put it down. Neil remains a private person on the last page just as he was on the first, and my sympathy goes some way to Buzz Aldrin, the poor relation who perhaps did indeed have more of a "buzz" and a bit more character.
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on 25 July 2006
Neil Armstrong occupies a unique place in history and like Yuri Gagarin, no matter where we travel in the future, he will always be first. His enigmatic personality is examined in the closest possible detail here. The well-known 'distance' between the members of Apollo 11's crew is discussed of course, but as with much of the book, readers are encouraged to examine the evidence, to think for themselves and to make up their own minds. There are several inaccuracies (the comment about the death of Yuri Gagarin in 1967 is wholly inaccurate) but the book is nonetheless a triumph and a must for the 'serious' student. The author's achievement in getting Armstrong's co-operation is remarkable. I never thought it would happen. I'm not sure how Buzz Aldrin will feel about it though.
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on 27 January 2006
The anticipation of this book made it almost impossible for the book itself to completely satisfy and on many levels the author does seem to fall quite short of the mark.
What is obvious is that Neil Armstrong was, and still is, an intensely private man and also a very humble human being who fully understood and appreciated the enormous effort it took to place he and Buzz Aldrin on to the Moon and return them safely.
History will hopefully remember Neil for the exceptional individual he is and respect, finally, how he has dealt with the fame of being 'The First Man', with quiet dignity.
Maybe it's because of his nature that this book ultimately falls short on the human level. I don't feel as though I know Neil Armstrong any more now then before I read about his quite remarkable life. I still don't know who Neil Armstrong really is, what he actually felt as he planted that first step or how he felt when gazing back at us from the surface of the Moon.
If this to be the only chronicle of Neil's life then it is a tragedy.
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