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Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race Hardcover – September 28, 2009

3.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Biddle, a former New York Times reporter with a Pulitzer Prize to his credit, intertwines the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany with scientist Wernher von Braun and his role in the creation of Germany's deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets, and his postwar apotheosis as a leader of the United States space program. Biddle's primary purpose is to debunk the view—created at least in part, Biddle believes, by von Braun himself—that he was merely a pawn in the Nazi regime whose work on the V-2 weaponry was secondary in his own mind to his goal of building rockets to send humankind into space. While much of von Braun's role in the Nazi Party is shrouded in darkness, the facts and circumstantial inferences that Biddle finds convincingly contradict von Braun's self-exoneration regarding his wartime work. Biddle offers damning evidence—including testimony by slave laborers that puts von Braun inside the V-2 factory and well aware of, and participating in, the brutal treatment of the workers. Biddle also criticizes the U.S. space program for its embrace of von Braun despite his documented membership in Hitler's SS corps. 12 illus. (Sept.)
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"fascinating to read Wayne Biddle's deconstruction of [von Braun's] aura of acceptability. . . . any rose-tinted spectacles worn these past six decades will likely slip." --New Scientist

"In a highly charged revisionist book, Biddle fiercely questions the virtuous myth that was built up to protect von Braun, but also the morality behind his rehabilitation." --The Times (London)

"a passionate book that raises important moral questions" --New York Times Book Review (an Editor's Choice selection)

"adds compelling detail to [von Braun's] dark past" --Providence Sunday Journal (Reviewers' Best Reads of 2009)

"all the dirty linen comes out in this fascinating, highly readable book" --Baltimore Jewish Times

“[Biddle] assembles facts, omissions, or inconsistencies in von Braun’s postwar accounts of the V-2 that cast doubt on von Braun’s minimization of his knowledge about the concentration camp where the missile was constructed....A stern, prosecutorial portrait of the famous German American rocketeer.” — Gilbert Taylor (Booklist)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (September 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059106
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #924,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Wayne Biddle was born in Baltimore and educated at Cornell, where he was an undergraduate in the school of electrical engineering and a graduate student in the English department's master of fine arts program. He has been a contributing editor at Harper's magazine, a reporter for The New York Times (where he won a Pulitzer prize for writing about the "Star Wars" anti-missile system), and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Technical University in Berlin. He has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the American Medical Writers Association, the National Press Club, and the Newspaper Guild of New York.

Visit his website at waynebiddle.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In short, this book is not what I expected. All told, it contains about 240 pages. If we disregard the preliminary pages (Table of Contents, etc.), the brief introduction, the index, the bibliography and the many pages of notes, we are left with 152 pages of main text. At least the first third of this comprises mainly of historical information on Germany during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as some von Braun family history. Wernher von Braun is briefly mentioned here and there, but the mention of events in his life becomes gradually more frequent as the book progresses beyond the first third. The development of rocketry technology is also superficially touched upon routinely, but becomes a bit more prominent in the later parts of the book. The last couple of chapters contain the most information on Wernher von Braun's life and accomplishments. Evidence for von Braun's "darker side" is suggested only in a few paragraphs where the building of rockets in Nazi Germany using slave labour is discussed. The writing style is rather formal, quite authoritative, but at times a bit awkward. This book would likely appeal more to serious history buffs interested in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century than to those interested in Wernher von Braun's life or a detailed history of rocketry.
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Format: Hardcover
Wayne Biddle attempts to solve some of the lingering questions concerning Wernher von Braun's work during WWII. `Dark side of the Moon' is short, in that there are less than 152 pages written about von Braun. There are almost 70 pages of notes and an index which even includes indexed notes. With so much information and Biddle's statement in the introduction that there is new information since von Braun's death and time elapsed after the war and the opening of especially East Germany, one would think that you would find some of that new information in his work. It seems to be sadly lacking. Biddle bases most of his premise that von Braun was not the innocent rocket scientist in his work at Peenemunde; most of the accusations concern von Braun's knowledge of the use of slave labor. All of this has been brought up before, including the photograph of von Braun in an SS uniform.

Who knows for sure what happened or what is in the heart of a man? What is certain is that von Braun used both the German and US government to satisfy his desire to build rockets, but that is not news either. The Americans wanted to believe his innocence in WWII atrocities and Biddle claims this has been covered up; but seems to present no new evidence. What he does write are many snide comments and innuendos such as commenting on von Braun's arm cast, when he was captured, saying it resembled the `party salute'; he states Redstone Arsenal was well on its' way to resembling Peenemunde and then states Cape Canaveral shows a remarkable resemblance as well.

Biddle dismisses von Braun's arrest during the war as a lucky break...`no one has been inclined to shed light on the story`s factual basis or historical context', even stating the recollections of Albert Speer might not believed concerning this episode where von Braun claimed pressure to join the SS.
I found this book to be sadly lacking any new information and much of what is written becomes contradictory.
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Format: Hardcover
Having recently read the excellent biography Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, I wondered how much more this book would add. The questions about Von Braun are: How much did Von Braun know about what was going on in Nazi Germany and how much was he a part of it?

The first question is easy, obviously he to some extent knew what the Nazis were doing. The second, and the one this book focuses on, is the harder question to answer. Von Braun was always evasive, at times contradictory, and reluctant to talk about pre-1945.

The reasons may be: 1. He wanted to forget the horrors of the war, 2. He was ashamed that he couldn't or didn't change things at the time, or 3. He was more part of the Reich than he admitted. If #3 is true, perhaps he changed, and perhaps he didn't. He left virtually nothing to answer these questions. Ultimately, Biddle's book doesn't contain any smoking guns, and most of the circumstantial evidence is already known, but it does cause doubt.

Taken as a whole, Biddle's argument seems to point to Von Braun hiding things. But which of the three reasons were behind his evasiveness? Was it really #3? We may never know. However, our acceptance of thousands of Nazis, and the blackout of their pasts (some of which were problems), is a troubling part of our history. How did we choose which Nazis to prosecute and which to protect?
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Format: Hardcover
This book is more a protest than a history, written from the perspective of an American liberal academic. Having read several other biographies of Wernher von Braun, there is very little new here, with the only new photo being of von Braun standing aside the Mercedes he drove while at NASA. Biddle does not present a convincing case of his claim that von Braun was of bad character. Instead, it seems to confirm Michael Neufeld's characterization of him in Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War as a raconteur, who can sometimes make a story bigger in the telling than it actually was.

What many are looking for nowadays regarding Wernher von Braun, Peenemeunde, and NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, is an in-depth technical history, more akin to Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology) by Donald Mackenzie. But as a 'rocket scientist' myself who has developed weapons for my own country, the USA, the past 30+ years, I find Biddle's "j'accuse" without merit.
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