From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The writing is fast-paced and crisp, the stakes high and the tension palpable from the first pages of this high-flying account of the early days of the space race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., a race ignited by the Soviet launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Brzezinski (Fortress America), a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, says this battle for military and technological control of space, part of the larger Cold War, had lasting consequences. Brzezinski illuminates how the space race divided Americans: for instance, then Sen. Lyndon Johnson wanted to aggressively pursue the race, but President Eisenhower thought the ambitious senator was merely seeking publicity. The author also dissects the failed American spin: despite White House claims that Sputnik was no big deal, the media knew it was huge. Sputnik II, launched a month later, was even more unsettling for Americans, causing them to question their way of life. The principals—Khrushchev, Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, rocket scientist Werner von Braun—are vividly realized. Yet even more than his absorbing narrative, Brzezinski's final analysis has staying power: although the U.S. caught up to the U.S.S.R., it was the Russians' early dominance in space that established the Soviet Union as a superpower equal to America. (Sept.)
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Comparable to Paul Dickson's Sputnik: Shock of the Century (2001), Brzezinski's speedy narrative of the first satellite slings readers from launch pads to conference rooms. Beyond the storied facts of the Sputnik event, Brzezinski integrates a theme of Eisenhower and Khrushchev's initially dim understanding of Sputnik's significance. They soon sensed the extraordinary societal reaction of pride in the USSR and panic in the U.S., but their adjustments were quite different. Brzezinski dramatizes Khrushchev's personally shaky grip on power in 1957, when Stalinists attempted to oust him, connecting the satellite spectacular to a reinforcement of his political position. Ike, on the other hand, his eye on expenses, tried to resist the do-something stampede but was overwhelmed. From the domestic politics of the cold-war rivals, Brzezinski shifts to the technically temperamental missiles with which the Soviet Union's secret "Chief Designer" (Sergei Korolev) and his counterparts on rival U.S. Army and Navy teams strove to heave an orbiting orb. A kinetic rendition of Sputnik, this will score with spaceflight buffs. Taylor, Gilbert
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