From Publishers Weekly
The 15-minute Freedom 7 flight in 1961 made astronaut Alan Shepard America's first man in space and its first hero of the space age. Later he made history by playing golf on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission. But journalist Thompson reveals another side of this all-American navy pilot with the right stuff. Although married for more than 50 years, Shepard had an eye for the prettiest girl in a room. Even longtime colleagues found him a hard man to get to know. The "Icy Commander" could be charming and helpful one minute, steely-eyed and "reaming them out" the next. Thompson traces Shepard's life from a New Hampshire childhood, when he was captivated with flying, to a lackluster career at Annapolis, where he frequently bent the rules, then his goal of becoming a jet pilot. Thompson shines a light on the very private Shepard's career between his Mercury and Apollo days, when he was earthbound by Menière's disease, which affected his equilibrium. In retirement, Shepard amazed everyone (except probably his devoted wife, Louise) by energetically embracing philanthropic causes before succumbing to leukemia at age 74. Thompson doesn't reveal much that die-hard space junkies don't already know about Shepard's often contentious relationship with his Mercury 7 colleagues, especially John Glenn, but his is a snappily written, factual counterbalance to Tom Wolfe's sometimes poetic renderings of the heroes of the early space program. Space buffs and baby boomers who remember Shepard's gravity-escaping flight should snap it up. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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Impatient, driven, competitive, and sharp-tongued--astronaut Alan Shepard (1923-98) was all of those for much of his life, and despite his long marriage to the remarkable Louise Brewster, a party animal, too. One of the two best pilots among the original Mercury Seven, Shepard was selected over the other, John Glenn, to be the first American in space, and his career culminated in taking Apollo 14 to the moon. The driven quality about him sometimes made him unappealing and even downright appalling, but it helped him fight off Meniere's disease (an inner-ear disorder) to get back into space while simultaneously building a business empire. Although newsman Thompson has thoroughly researched Shepard, he makes a few mistakes, such as putting the F4U Corsair at the Battle of Midway, and it is odd that he doesn't mention Walter Schirra's nine-hour, orbital Sigma 7 flight among other early space-program milestones. But noticeable glitches didn't prevent completion of the Mercury missions, and they don't much impede this first full-dress biography of a complex space pioneer. Roland Green
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