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Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun Paperback – September 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This paean offers uncritical praise of every aspect of rocket scientist von Braun's life. While there's an enormous amount to celebrate about the man most responsible for the U.S. putting astronauts on the moon, von Braun (1912–1977) is a more complex figure than Ward represents. As a reporter for the Huntsville (Ala.) Times, Ward covered von Braun during many of his years as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville. In addition to his own interactions with von Braun, Ward draws too heavily on letters written by the scientist's friends and colleagues in honor of his 60th birthday. Additionally, Ward provides a relatively superficial examination of von Braun's controversial role in Nazi Germany, where he and his team of engineers created the V-2 rocket used against the Allies (this project is better presented by Michael Neufeld in The Rocket and the Reich). A clear picture of von Braun's enormous charisma, intellect and personality does come through, as does a sense of how critical a political (as well as technological) role von Braun played in defining America's space program. 40 b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Bob Ward, a former editor-in-chief of The Huntsville Times, covered the von Braun rocket team as a reporter. This is his fifth book on space subjects. He lives in Huntsville, AL.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press; Reissue edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591149274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591149279
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Big D VINE VOICE on July 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Excellent read on the birth of the space program through the man who most "got it done..." von Braun..Just enough technical stuff to appreciate and understand the difficulty of it, but not too much to slow the read..well done..a great mix of humanity and science...

Concentrates on von Braun the man...excellent insight into his manners, values, hopes, dreams,trials and disappointments. We can learn from the man's disappointments and hard times as much as we can from his good times and successes. Bob presents a broad array of humanity which makes this book well worth reading from the humanity standpoint. Good mix..great mix--of science and humanity.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Victor S. Alpher on February 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I doubt that many readers here would dismiss a book because of laudatory marketing on the dustjacket--but it happens. Further, to criticize a book so meticulously referenced because the author met the subject and may have had a favorable impression would bring publishing to a halt.

This will not be the first or the last book on Wernher von Braun; however, it has come at a time when some historical re-evaluation is needed. WvB's dream was not merely to travel to space, but to someday inhabit it, and he believed that a human expedition to Mars was well within our scientific and technical capability, probably long before manned missions to the moon were abandoned.

We DID find out that the craters on the moon are largely NOT volcanic, and I have met the person who put forth THAT theory 20 years before it could be evaluated by evidence, Ralph Belknap Baldwin. His impressive writings on another subject, the Proximity Fuze, are largely ignored by scholars...for another day. On to WvB.

I'm sure there are many who breathed a sigh of relief when he finally succumbed to cancer. Or, perhaps, that he were not born of Prussian nobility. Yet, despite great odds against him (SS officer position, being awared the War Merit Cross with Swords), he managed to move the entire Pennemuende operation from the Baltic Sea to southern Germany, to mastermind surrender to the Americans and protect vital documents against Soviet plunder. For that alone he could be remembered. Yet, he did much more. He was in no position to thwart National Socialism, any more than many Americans are in a position to thwart a motion toward American Socialism.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wernher von Braun was very bright, very dedicated, and very, very lucky. Looking at what he did, there is no question that he was a very bright fellow. He couldn't have done all that he did otherwise. He was also very dedicated. He lived and breathed rockets. He started working with rockets very early and kept at it all through his life.

But just think how lucky he was. Had he been born earlier (like Goddard) there were no rocket programs. Had he been born later, say he turned 16 or 17 in 1944, it is likely that he would have been cannon fodder on the eastern front. Had he been fascinated by any of a hundred other subjects: machine guns, aircraft engines, submarines or whatever, he would have been just another member of the Nazi party and the SS. Rather than a trip to the US as a "Special Employee" of the US Army, it is likely that he would have a trip to prison instead. If he had been in the Russian zone ....

This is the first book on von Braun that I've read that got the story of Operation Paperclip and the special trip to Mexico correct. That shows pretty good research.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By fastreader on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wernher von Braun was a baron from birth. He learned to play the piano from the composer Paul Hindemith, and he assembled a jet-powered vehicle (six skyrockets lashed to a coaster wagon) at the age of 12. As the youthful chief of Germany's rocket program, he got into trouble with his Nazi overlords because he talked of space travel when all they wanted from him was to drop explosives on the heads of their enemies.

Von Braun not only led Germany into space--by way of the V-2 ballistic missile that hammered London in the last year of World War II--but the United States as well. His portable allegiances caused the comedian Mort Sahl to quip, after seeing a von Braun biopic called I Aim at the Stars: "But sometimes I miss and hit London!"

Bob Ward is most interesting when he deals with the question of von Braun's war guilt-not only a Nazi, but an SS officer and head of a factory that employed slave labor. The story flags a bit (and so, in the end, did the seemingly indefatigable von Braun) amid the politics and bureaucracy of Fort Bliss, Redstone Arsenal, and NASA's Washington headquarters. Still, a worthwhile biography of a fascinating man. - Dan Ford
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joel R. VINE VOICE on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Dr. Space" by Bob Ward is story of America's first space icon -- Dr. Werher von Braun. This is not the story of von Braun the technician-- it is the story of von Braun the leader. It's the story of a man who adopted a new country, and how he led that country into space.

Bob Ward writes "In his day, von Braun enjoyed the popularity equal to that of a movie star. Yet despite all the publicity and the flood of fan mail he received, he seemed [...] {to prefer } to focus on the reason for it." In this book, Ward takes the reader on von Braun's journey from the German rocket works at Peenemunde, to the heartland of America.

Von Braun and his team made their first Amerian homes at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they were "Prisoners of Peace". With the fresh wounds of World War II, the Army decided it was best to keep a low profile as they servered as technical experts on the nascent American rocketry program. No program of this size could be kept secret for too long, so eventually the team integrated with the local community. The team eventually moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where once again they proved their worth to both the American space industry and to the local community.

In addition to looking at not only this team, Ward looks at some of the larger issues of the day. Not only were the American's in a space race with the Soviets, there was infighting within NASA. When von Braun's team was not selected for the sub-orbital program, he wisely placed an excess rocket in "long term storage tests". He knew that the winning design team was going to have integration issues, because he had faced those same issues years before.
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