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Sputnik: The Shock of the Century Hardcover – May 29, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Co; First Edition edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713650
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dickson (The Electronic Battlefield) chronicles in detail the Soviet satellite Sputnik. The Soviet Union was propelled into international prominence on October 4, 1957, by becoming the first nation to successfully launch a satellite, beating the American program by several months. The Soviet spacecraft panicked Americans, who constantly looked up into the sky, spoke in hushed tones and feared that the satellite presaged an atomic attack. President Eisenhower remained calm and tried to lead the country through the media-generated crisis, but the Sputnik "debacle" helped the Democrats in the next election. Dickson chronicles the history of rocket research, including Nazi successes during WWII. American and Soviet troops vied to seize German scientists and hardware. Dickson examines the feuding between the services for control of the space program and candidly exposes the reasons for the lag in American research. Eisenhower gets high marks for his quiet mastery of the situation, pleased that the Soviets were first into space, since that set off a race to improve American education, even as it fueled an outbreak of UFO hysteria. Dickson, whose bibliography runs to 19 pages, completely understands the lure and lore of Sputnik and has done a solid job of synthesizing prior books on the subject.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Space exploration is often portrayed as a U.S.-U.S.S.R. race, with the Soviet Union winning the initial lap by launching Sputnik, the earth's first artificial satellite. Yet as Dickson (The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary) reveals, for the United States, the race was also an internal competition, with the military (particularly Wernher von Braun's rocket team) and the Eisenhower administration grappling for control of the national space program. Eisenhower, who sought to demilitarize space and thereby open the skies to U.S. espionage satellites, eventually triumphed, establishing NASA as a civilian agency and successfully testing a clandestine satellite launch. Focusing on internal rivalries and including pre-Sputnik material, Dickson's book complements Robert A. Divine's The Sputnik Challenge (LJ 3/1/93), which considers the aftermath of Sputnik; James Killian's personal Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (LJ 1/15/78. o.p.); and the scholarly Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic, 2000; also issued as NASA Technical Memorandum 113448). For public and academic libraries. Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Paul Dickson is the author of more than 45 nonfiction books and hundreds of magazine articles. Although he has written on a variety of subjects from ice cream to kite flying to electronic warfare, he now concentrates on writing about the American language, baseball and 20th century history. His most recent titles include Drunk: The Definitive Drinker's Dictionary, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Sputnik: The Shock of the Century and Slang: A Topical Dictionary of Americanisms.

Customer Reviews

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys history.
M. Strong
I read Paul Dicksons new book about Sputnik a few days after the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
William Young
My only quibble with this book is that the subtitle seems overstated.
Donald Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
On 4 October 1957, the world woke up in the space age. The first artificial satellite (people were originally calling it an artificial moon) had been successfully launched by the Soviet Union. It weighed less than 200 pounds and was only as big as a basketball, its batteries died after three weeks whereupon it went silent, and after three months aloft it disintegrated upon reentry into the atmosphere. This tiny and ephemeral ball made huge differences in science and the world political climate, and in Sputnik: The Shock of the Century (Walker & Co.), Paul Dickson has reviewed them all. He has also given a history of what led up to successful launches of satellites in both the Soviet Union and the US, so that his book is a useful review not just of the first satellite but of twentieth century space exploration in general.
The Russians already had a relatively long history of thinking about space before Sputnik went up. The visionary Tsiolovsky was a self-taught scholar who in 1898 created the first formula to specify what sort of power would be needed to send an object up so as not to fall down again. He described that this could be accomplished by a "reaction machine," which we know as a rocket. He never got to use models, but his first sketch of a spaceship had fuel tanks of liquid oxygen and hydrogen, just as the shuttle uses. He described the use of booster rockets to attain escape velocity. Of course, Dickson tells the fascinating story of our own neglected rocket man, Robert Goddard, who made real rockets and gained over 200 patents, but mostly got only posthumous credit for his accomplishments.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By mx5mike on November 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As a longtime space buff, I looked forward to reading this book about an event that happened before I was born. I found two factual errors that unfortunately left me questioning the authenticity of other facts in the book.
On page 41, the book reads "In 1968, as Apollo 11 lifted off for the Moon..." and on page 236 it states "When the space shuttle was first launched in 1982..." These events, of course, happened in 1969 and 1981, and rank among the most important space events ever (along with Sputnik's launch, certainly). How these two dates could be incorrect makes me just a little skeptical that other things I read in the book might just be a little off as well. What if a book on early US history listed Jefferson as the 4th President?
I really wanted to like this book, and altough it tended to be a little dry at times, I found many interesting stories and details, but two blatant factual inaccuracies that made it past however many people they made it past before the book's printing left me a little wary of the rest of the content. I don't want to malign the entirety of the author's work for what might be no more than typos, but I just could not get past those two.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
To date in my life there have been just a few events that caused me to sit back and rethink everything. The earliest of those events was the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. The latest was September 11, 2001. In between, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson's decision not to seek re-election, and Watergate had large impacts.
Reviewing those events now, the Sputnik launch clearly had the largest impact. I was already space crazy, and had been following the plans for launching satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year with great interest. I had a photograph of the Vanguard rocket in my bedroom. I also knew that the Soviet Union planned a satellite, but assumed that it would come later than Vanguard. Then, pow! Sputnik is sailing around the globe, visible at sunrise and sunset. I also knew that even if we launched Vanguard the next day, it would be puny compared to Sputnik. Clearly, the Soviet Union was years ahead in space. How could that be?
Soon, the curriculum in my school was enriched with math and science and a lot of my friends decided to become engineers. Since I was good in both areas, there was a lot of pressure on me to do the same. Of the people with these talents, I was the only one who did not pursue a technical career or teaching science.
I was very impressed with this book because it captured the popular reaction to the event at the time, detailed the decisions that led up to the U.S. falling behind, and spells out what happened later (for good and bad). Although over 90 percent of what is in the book was known to me before, I found it helpful to see the pieces all put together in one place.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William Young on September 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read Paul Dickson�s new book about Sputnik a few days after the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The book is very topical, because it portrays a period from the 1950s that has many distressing similarities to our current political climate. Dickson describes a time when America felt that it was under siege -- by Communists rather than terrorists. One even finds phraseology from the period that we are hearing today, with people during the Cold War talking about �cells� of Communists just as people now are talking about �cells� of terrorists. One of the major lessons from Dickson�s book is the danger of developing national policy based on knee-jerk public reaction. Dickson describes how after Sputnik was launched, President Eisenhower was under intense pressure to respond quickly. Yet Eisenhower was willing to take the heat in the short term in order to achieve some of his broader long term policy goals vis-à-vis the Russians. I wonder whether Eisenhower would have been able to stay the course in the face of widespread immediate criticism had he been forced to deal with the barrage of public opinion polls and instant analysis that we have now.
Dickson�s book is a great read. I was born in 1952, so I do not have any memories of the initial Sputnik hysteria in the 1950s. Dickson makes the characters and events from that period come alive. The book is carefully researched, but information about the details and sources are put in an appendix so that readers of the main text will not become bogged down. While the book was written and published before the tragedies of this past September 11, it provided a very useful context to help me better understand some of the responses we are now witnessing.
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