on March 16, 2000
First, so you know, I'm a lifelong fan of the space program. I was five years old when Apollo 11 landed, and, like many of that age, caught a feverish interest in space travel and the people who actually did what I dreamed of doing.
I'm not saying that to claim a special expertise on the topic, but to confess that I'm far from impartial when reviewing a book like this. The fact is, I'd probably find Frank Borman's grocery list or John Young's dog's veterinary records intensely fascinating.
More's the pity, since I can't say the same for Moon Shot. Other reviewers have noted that the authors seem to have been unable to make up their minds whether they were writing a history of the space program, or a joint autobiography. Because of this, it fails at both. The coverage of the space program is haphazard, focusing on the authors' accomplishments while ignoring many other significant people and events. As a biography, Moon Shot leaves much to be desired, giving little information on Shepard's or Slayton's backgrounds, reasons for becoming astronauts, etc. If you're looking for an astronaut autobiography and a detailed account of part of Project Apollo, Jim Lovell's book, Lost Moon, does a much better job of putting both in one package.
Moon Shot does not go in depth into what it does cover. Instead, the major parts of each event are duly recited, and the narrative goes no further. Worse, the book breaks no new ground, either. When I bought Moon Shot, I expected that, since I would be reading recollections of people who directly participated in Project Apollo, I would be treated to unusual viewpoints and to information not readily available elsewhere. But, at no time while reading the book was I surprised. There was nothing in Moon Shot which made me say to myself, "Wow, I didn't know that."
Moon Shot suffers from having been published at about the same time as Andrew Chaikin's masterpiece, A Man On The Moon. At first glance, Moon Shot looks weak and inept by comparison to Chaikin's thorough historical account. This is unfortunate and unfair. While it may not be clear what the authors intended Moon Shot to be, it seems obvious that Shepard and Slayton never planned to write something on the scale of A Man On The Moon.
But, even if one accepts Moon Shot for what it is - light coverage of selected parts of the authors' experiences in the space program - the book still falls short. In the world of Moon Shot, there are no serious rivalries, no harsh animosities among the astronauts, and everyone happily performs above and beyond the call of duty every day. Shepard's well-known hostile managerial style as head of the astronaut office is represented here as little more than occasional grumpiness. John Glenn's behind-the-scenes efforts to knock Shepard out of the first manned Mercury flight after the selection had been made are barely mentioned.
Don't get me wrong - I have no desire to bash legends. But neither do I want to read saccharine and be told it is history. And the fact is, Moon Shot often reads more like a NASA press release than like a well-balanced account of the facts.
In summary, the only positive thing I can say about Moon Shot is that it has two heroes' names on the cover. Sadly, both men passed away soon after Moon Shot was published. Too bad they didn't write a better, well deserved epitath for themselves.
on August 30, 2011
If you only read one book about the moon program, make sure it's not this one.
Jay Barbree comes across as a tabloid hack who is more interested in sensationalism than facts. His method of simply inventing conversations and reactions borders on the ridiculous.
The book is not a step-by-step guide through Mercury/Gemini/Apollo, but it's also not an in-depth story on Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton. It's as though the authors couldn't decide which way to go with the book, and ended up meeting none of the objectives.
Having access to Shepard and Slayton SHOULD have resulted in a book that was the definitive story of the American space program from its inception. Unfortunately the opportunity was lost.
on May 5, 2011
So, having read and loved the first edition of this book that came out way back in 1994, I jumped when I saw the new release, hyped to include new A/V content. But was definitely disappointed to discover that the A/V content amounts to only six short video clips embedded in the text of the book. The content of the clips themselves was nice, but I was expecting more. On the positive side, it doesn't cost any more than the regular Kindle edition, and the actual text of the book works on both my iPad and my "regular" Kindle. (The traditional Kindle just doesn't display the A/V clips).
This still remains a wonderful book, which is why I give it four stars. Just don't expect a huge amount of A/V in this edition.
on December 1, 2011
My father was an aeronautical engineer who had me take him to his last air show three weeks before he died. I was in first grade when Alan Shepard made his first flight into space, so I grew up with the space program. As an adult, I've had a number of close friends who worked for NASA or NASA contractors. I'm a huge fan of the space program. And I found this book a big disappointment.
For one thing, the writing style was too overblown; it sounded like a press release, and not even from NASA. ("Poets in spacesuits" indeed). There were lots of little copyediting problems: run-on sentences, bad punctuation, use of the wrong word or the wrong form of a word. As others have pointed out, Barbree recreates thoughts, conversations and reactions that he couldn't know first-hand and that are inappropriate in a work of nonfiction.
He spends far too much time on mechanics and far too little time on perspective. He goes over the countdown and launch sequence in detail several times; anyone who didn't already know about the water blanket that cools the pad as a rocket's engines start up will have several chances to read about it in this book. On the other hand, he gives short shrift to the astonishing technological developments that either came from or were accelerated by the space race and help shape our world today. He mentions virtually nothing learned from lunar exploration except some arcane geology.
The most disturbing problem with this book is its lack of direction. It purports to be a history of the moon race from the perspective of Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, but the voice is strictly Barbree's. We never hear directly from Shepard or Slayton. Some space missions are covered in detail; some are glossed over. So the book doesn't come across as the personal story of two men who were truly significant to the space program; it comes across instead as a sloppy, uneven survey of the moon race.
This book was originally published in 1994, but Barbree revised it in 2011 for the Kindle edition. In that time both Shepard and Slayton have died. It would have been natural and gracious for Barbree to add a little epilogue to wind up their stories. Instead, he chose to add a shrill, sour rant against Barack Obama. Sad.
I hesitated what rating to give. I consider three stars to be an average book, and I thought this one was below average. On the other hand, I enjoyed the little trip down memory lane that it brought me and I read all the way to the end, so it wasn't a terrible book. It didn't need to be destroyed by the range safety officer, but it certainly missed its trajectory and failed to make orbit.
on June 19, 1999
Deke Slayton and Al Shepard's book is a fine, well-written overview of the American space program. It unfortunately misses in several ways.
First, the book can't decide if it's an autobiography or not. It's "the inside story," but it concentrates on Shepard's two flights and Slayton's overrated Apollo-Soyuz mission. The plot is skewed towards the authors, which doesn't make sense considering it's written in the third person.
I found this third-person narrative approach irritating. I almost felt as if the ghostwriters chose to describe the events in this manner so they could feed the astronauts' egos further. Apollo books often come face-to-face with the astronauts' infamous cockiness, but this book makes no attempt to hide it. Shepard described himself as a "leading test pilot, astronaut, explorer, adventurer, master of wings and rocket fire, and hero to millions." All this may be true but you're not supposed to say it about yourself.
It also needs more character development. It doesn't go beyond saying that Slayton and Shepard were friends. I got tired of being told outright of the friendship. I wanted to be told about it, not of it. I felt like I wanted to know the authors better, especially since they were the focus. On top of that, several crucial people such as Ed Mitchell (Shepard's lunar module pilot) are just names here- they are not given any substance.
It also concocts stupid commentary for narrative purposes. For example, to get across a point the book may recount a "conversation" between Slayton and Shepard that is so corny as to be all but useless. This is a subtle, but unfortunate problem with this book.
The final downfall of this book is its unwillingness to discuss the other Apollo missions. Apollos 15 and 16 are passed over in a paragraph-- and Apollo 17 got a whole page because the future of the program needed to be stressed to segway into Slayton's Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Most importantly, this book fails to convey the magic and wonder of spaceflight. It fell victim to poor writing-- the descriptions of being on the moon were too often reduced to cliche.
Here's what's good about this book. It does tell the "inside story" of the Apollo missions-- and does faithfully describe the missions. It serves as a decent, quick-read overview of Apollo.
For the complete, longer story read Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon." For a more specific, personal, and readable story of a specific mission, read Gene Cernan's "Last Man on the Moon." But don't read "Moon Shot."
I re-visited this book, which I read (and got autographed by Shepard) when it was new, after watching the great "From the Earth to the Moon" series again. The book has its four-star moments, but I settled for three.
The content is not particularly sophisticated, and to be honest, the competition among the Apollo books is strong. For example, books by Lovell and Cernan are both better than this one. Even so, it's worth reading by students of the space program for the additional perspective and occasion detail.
Perhaps a root problem is that the book is a mixture of autobiography and story of the space program, with the perspective of the two astronauts not given very often. When that happened effectively, the book was at its best. I liked stories such as NASA's attempt to keep secret who had gotten the first flight, Deke's grounding, Shepard's return to flight status, Apollo 14, and Deke's reaction to the Apollo 1 fire. There are several scenes like that, enough to make the book worthwhile.
In contrast, some other incidents had superfluous reference to the authors. I didn't really care that Deke and Al sort-of high-fived each other when Apollo 11 landed. Their thoughts on the end of the Apollo program or what the program really meant to them aren't really captured. Few insightful comments about the other astronauts were made (unlike Cernan's book). Many opportunities were lost.
The Apollo-Soyuz mission is presented as a relatively big deal, which it was to Deke, obviously. In reality, it was pretty meaningless, other than as an exercise in international cooperation.
Deke comes across pretty well in other books and in the "From the Earth to the Moon" series. His character shines at times here, too. Maybe some remarks by other people about Deke, besides from Shepard, would have helped convey that image. How did others feel about how Deke ran the astronaut office, which was his core contribution to the space program? You won't find that in this book.
on September 9, 2011
My title says it all. Read "Deke" by Deke Slayton instead for a remarkable insight into the man who decided who flew what mission and who made the first step on the moon.
on November 23, 2007
This review is based on the original (1994) hardback edition. This book is much more than a history of the space program from about 1957 to 1975. It includes the inspirational determination for Shepard to fly again and for Slayton to fly even once. I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Shepard and getting his autograph on this book.
The book captures the intensity of the space race. When Shepard saw Sputnik 1 (or, more probably, the upper-level rocket stage also in orbit), he chagrined at the fact that it didn't have "Made in the USA" written on it. Later, the Soviets were sad that the men circling the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 didn't have Russian names.
Some seldom-discussed information is provided in this book. For instance, the US could have orbited a satellite over a year before Sputnik (p. 45). Were it not for an overcautious NASA, Shepard could have beat Gagarin into space by a month (p. 89, 91). The dog, Laika, is said to have lived for several days in space (p. 44). We now know that she died several hours after launch--from an overheated cabin.
The authors discuss the politics behind the space program. For instance, the grounding of Deke Slayton had been for political and not medical reasons, as there was no evidence that Deke's heart irregularity would interfere with space flight. Rather, the fear was that, were Slayton's flight to end in disaster for any reason, his heart condition would automatically be suspected, and those who cleared him for flight would face automatic recrimination. The authors also allege that politics was behind the choice of Houston as the site for the Space Center. Both astronauts also had to contend with politics in the wake of the Apollo 13 near-disaster, notably the call, by some politicians, to cancel all remaining Apollo moon flights. Shepard also realized that, were his Apollo 14 to fail to land on the moon, there most probably would be no further Apollo flights.
One is thrilled by Alan Shepard finding a surgical treatment for his Meniere's syndrome, and getting restored to flight status. Up to that time, he had considered himself an eagle whose wings had been clipped and who had been forced to be a turkey--in more ways than one.
Then, over ten years after his grounding, Deke Slayton got his chance...in a joint US-Soviet flight that would have been equally unimaginable at the time of his grounding.
on July 5, 1997
Alan Shepard has virtually novelized the account of the Apollo program and his role in it, to the point of including inaccuracies and situations that never happened. One example that comes to mind, is the photograph of Alan Shepard hitting his golf ball on the surface of the moon; it is actually a montage of several photos, but this is not told to the reader. Also, the landing portion of the Apollo 14 includes made-up dialogue that never occurred, possibly an attempt to portray the excitement and dramatize the tension of problems that developed. I was so disgusted with the book that I sold my hardcover back to a used bookstore for $2(and I pride myself on having a great collection of hardcover 1st edition space program books)
on May 26, 2011
This is review is based on the Kindle edition of the 2011 revised edition.
I agree with criticism from other reviewers: The book is suspended between history and autobiography, neither being achieved. Yes, there are some historical details that are interesting, but way too little of them. The autobiographical writing is so grandiloquent at times that it is virtually unreadable. But the most disquieting for me was the ad hominem criticism of those who had the temerity to express doubts about the wisdom of the manned space program. Jerome Wiesner, an eminent scientist and engineer, and JFK's science advisor, is portrayed as having "mumbled and fumbled" that the Russians were too far ahead, and, along with his "cronies" "wanted to gut the whole national space program." Actually, Wiesner supported a space program, but of unmanned probes -- hardly the view of a reactionary. Those not endorsing full speed ahead for manned space flight are all "naysayers." The revision adds President Obama to its ad hominem targets. Thus, the reader might start off with the intention of learning some inside scoop -- and the book does, indeed, start off that way. But by the end -- if one gets that far -- the reader knows that, in total, the book is an unabashed NASA PR piece.