At a time when overwritten biographies arguably provide too much information about their subjects, astronaut-turned-politician-turned-astronaut John Glenn's breezy memoir is welcome. His life story is simply told, not terribly reflective but enormously compelling: an Ohio boy grows up to become the first American to orbit the earth, takes a shot at the presidency but misses, and triumphantly returns to outer space as a senior citizen and national hero. Following a section on his youth, Glenn describes being a fighter pilot in the Second World War and Korea (where he lived in the same Quonset hut as baseball legend Ted Williams), as well as a test pilot. The highlight of the book is Project Mercury, the early NASA effort that hurled Glenn 150 miles above the planet in a tiny capsule--"flying from one day into the next and back again." In less than five hours, Glenn observed three sunsets and sunrises. He also conducted a few basic experiments, such as "squeezing some applesauce from a toothpaste-like tube into my mouth to see if weightlessness interfered with swallowing. It didn't."
Upon his return to earth, Glenn made a few abortive runs for the Senate. He was finally elected in 1974 as a Democrat and served for 24 years. In 1984, he sought his party's presidential nomination, and it looked like he was the one candidate potentially capable of beating President Reagan. But he stumbled and had to quit. The final pages detail Glenn's 1998 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77. Just as his journeys riveted the nation, Glenn's memoir will grip its readers. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Glenn's utterly plainspoken yet thrilling autobiography will put a lump in readers' throats. The astronaut and four-term U.S. senator from Ohio seems to embody the best old-fashioned American values of integrity, personal discipline, love of country, honesty, courage and responsibility. At 37, Glenn was a frustrated navy bureaucrat stuck in a Washington desk job. Just four years later, in 1962, he became the first American to orbit the earth, piloting the Friendship 7 capsule and restoring national pride during the space race with the Soviet Union. Before that flight, he deadpanned to his wife: "Hey, honey, don't be scared. Remember, I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum." Glenn says he acquired a sense of unbounded possibility from his mother, an elementary schoolteacher, and his father, a coal-shoveling railroad worker who squeaked through the Depression and built up his own plumbing supplies company. Glenn's exploits as a pilot during WWII and Korea, as well as his high-altitude feats as a test pilot in the 1950s, are re-created with hair-raising immediacy in a gripping first-person narrative written with an assist from Taylor (whose books include the memoir A Necessary End). On a personal note, Glenn writes affectingly of his 56-year marriage to organist Annie Castor, with whom he played as a toddler; the strains of being a military family often having to move on short notice; his friendship with Robert Kennedy. The book closes with a heart-stopping account of his momentous return to space at age 77 in 1998 aboard space shuttle Discovery, an event that helped redefine the meaning of "old age." Told without an ounce of pretension, this is a memorable autobiography by a man who embraced public life and held it with a unique blend of Roman virtue and American confidence. BOMC main selection. (Nov.)
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