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What I'm Reading (No. 20): Rocket Men + May recap
Rocket Men by Robert Kurson
Towards the end of the last week I was looking for a good Memorial Day weekend read. To me, that means something somewhat easy reading, but also semi-historical in nature, due to the nature of the holiday. It's about remembering, after all.
After some not-so-quick bookshelf scanning, I decided on Robert Kurson's book about Apollo 8. And I was blown away. (No, that's not supposed to be a rocket joke, but it can be if you want.)
Born in the late '80s, I only got the broad outlines of the space program from my schooling. Sputnik, John Glenn, Apollo 11 (which landed on the moon), and Apollo 13 (from the incredible movie). Turns out, by all accounts — including Neil Armstrong's — Apollo 8 was an even bigger leap for mankind than the first steps on the moon.
Prior to Apollo 8, man had not ventured beyond Earth's orbit. In 1968 though, the space race with Russia was heating up (they were in fact winning), and NASA was determined to send someone to the moon, just to go around it mind you, before the Soviets got there. The risks of sending a crew 225,000 miles away into the moon's orbit were incalculable at the time. Nobody really knew what would happen, but this was a necessary first step to getting people actually on the moon. We had to know how its gravity worked, what the surface looked like up close (Apollo 8 orbited just 69 miles above the lunar terrain), and most importantly, if we could get a crew safely back from the moon.
Amazingly, everything came together, and on Christmas Eve the crew made a live television broadcast from the moon's orbit, which at the time was the most watched program of all time. (I talked to a few relatives over the holiday weekend who indeed remembered watching it and exactly where they were at the time.)
While the following summer's Apollo 11 crew is more remembered, Kurson makes the compelling case that the men of Apollo 8 — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders — should have a more honored place in American history. They were the first men to lay eyes on the freakin moon! Incredible, really.
Kurson does a masterful job telling their story, as well as placing it in its proper context of the late '60s turbulence in America. He also relates the importance of the men's wives (this crew was the only in which all the members remained married to their first wife), as well as the support team at NASA. Truly an amazing book, and I finished it over the course of the weekend. While I'm a fast reader, not every book can hold my attention like that to get read so quickly.
I definitely now have Kurson's other books on my to-read list — especially Shadow Divers, which is about the discovery of a German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey (what?!).
P.S. He'll be on the Art of Manliness podcast here in a couple months; I'll send along the link when that happens.
I finished just the one book this week, as I'm still reading Anna Karenina (I swear I'm going to finish it in June; it's really good, I just haven't had the time for it!), and finishing up Westerns. As much as I've enjoyed reading Westerns for the last year, I'm excited to have some reading freedom again. (That article goes up next Wednesday, by the way, so I'll include a link to it in next week's newsletter.)
The more I think about it, the more I believe Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained — chronicling a rancher's experience during the horrific 1950s Texas drought — should be considered among the greatest American novels, let alone of the Western genre. How it doesn't get more attention is mind-boggling. Charlie Flagg is as memorable a character as you'll ever encounter.
Books read: 8 (3 of which were Westerns; had to do some last-minute cramming for work!)
My 3 favorite reads of the month (in no particular order):
What were your favorite reads of May? I'd love to hear! As always, thanks so much for reading. I love hearing that this newsletter has inspired you to read a little more; that's been my hope from week one!