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The Right Stuff Paperback – March 4, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."

Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne. Chuck Yeager was certainly among the fastest, and his determination to push through Mach 1--a feat that some had predicted would cause the destruction of any aircraft--makes him the book's guiding spirit.

Yet soon the focus shifts to the seven initial astronauts. Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic . . . The Right Stuff is superb.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.” ―The Boston Globe

“An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty, and fiery death . . . Magnificent.” ―People

“Absolutely first class . . . Improbable as some of Wolfe's tales seem, I know he's telling it like it was.” ―The Washington Post Book World

“Crammed with inside poop and racy incident . . . fast cars, booze, astro groupies, the envies and injuries of the military caste system . . . Wolfe lays it all out in brilliantly staged Op Lit scenes.” ―Time

“Splendid . . . It shows our propensity to manufacture heroes, and, just as quickly, to forget them; it shows how a scientific program was exploited for political advantage; it provides a revealing character study of seven exceptional Americans.” ―The Saturday Review


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 2 edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427566
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By B on January 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In the early '80s, I was to graduate from school and got interested in flying for the US Navy. My mother sent a copy of T. Wolfe's book hoping to sway my dangerous intent and take a 'real' job. WRONG. About 9 months later I was soloing over Corpus Christi Bay and on my way to flying Navy jets.
Wolfe has written an epic that spans from the early days of flight test through the beginning of the US manned space program. It will increase the heart rate of aviators, aviation buffs and armchair pilots/astornauts. I highly recommend that anyone remotely interested in aviation/space read this book. While it may not be accurate to the smallest detail, the overall scope and feel for a era gone by can never be or has ever been captured in the history books.
Regarding Gus Grissom, new facts are coming to light that will clear his reputation. Wolfe does hammer Gus in the book about what was known at the time Wolfe wrote "The Right Stuff". However, all the research and reading that I have done, Gus was probably the smartest engineer and best test pilot of the M-7 astronauts . He had a reputation of being a real nuts and bolts engineer and a hard nose pilot. He could handle any situation while flying experitmental aircraft or on the ground discussing craft/engine design with NASA's engineers. If any one has ever seen the old NASA films of the Apollo program, when Gus is doing the radio tests on that fateful day, he really gives the engineers hell from the capsule owing to poor communication on the radios "Jesus Christ, we can't talk between three building, how the hell are we going to talk on the moon." Classic Gus.
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155 of 173 people found the following review helpful By Phoenix Rising on August 18, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've owned "The Right Stuff" for over thirty years in print form. I downloaded the Kindle version from Amazon to take with me on business trips.

To my disgust, the Kindle edition is abysmal - clearly, Amazon or whoever came up with it ran the print edition through a character-recognition software program and utterly failed to copy-edit it afterwards. The number of errors is alarming, and it is only because I've read the print version so many times that I was able to recognize what some of the errors meant in the text.

It's a shame, because this book is a fine, fine book and one of my all-time favorites. Shame on Amazon or the publisher or both for charging $10.00 for a flawed, poorly-edited copy.
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The typos have been fixed by the publisher and the corrected content is now available.
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Ranty on February 14, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great book, completely flubbed by Amazon. Is it so hard to run a spell check on a Kindle manuscript before publishing it? This book is filled with ridiculous OCR screwups: letters cl being turned into a nonsensical d, for instance. And there are a lot of them. Amazon needs to fix this book and send us all an updated version that doesn't hurt our eyes or our brains.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on July 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
As good as "The Right Stuff" is as a movie, the book is even better. Thomas Wolfe's account of post war American test pilots and the first American astronauts is frank, amusing, moving and ultimately triumphant. Wolfe humanzies the cocky heroes that made America's space program successful. He punctures the myths that have grown up around such legendary men as Chuck Yeager, John Glenn and Alan Shepard and portrays them honestly, warts and all. The test pilot sequences and the onerous astronaut training are the best parts, but the whole book is utterly fascinating. "The Right Stuff" may very well be the best aviation story ever written.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By jjlaw on April 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What Wolfe always does well is understand his characters motivations. Al Shephard - Smilin' Al of the Cape/Icy Commander - , Chuck Yeager, John Glenn "the flying monk" - are all sliced and diced by Wolfe's samurai sharp, if not unsympathetic, sword. A brilliant work on patriotism, heroism and American masculinity, with none of the dull twaddle that characterises Wolfe's later works (particularly Man in Full).
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brad4d VINE VOICE on June 18, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tom Wolfe gives a brilliantly entertaining and inspirational book about one of the most colorful chapters in recent American history -- the years from the first supersonic piloted test flight up to the early Sixties, when astronauts completed the beginning of America's space program. Wolfe writes about "the right stuff--" a blend of correct judgment, coolness, and the ability to get the job done no matter what the danger. Wolfe rarely depends on technical stuff, so the book will appeal to those who know or care little about aviation or space, and there's little to deter the squeamish, either. The author shows the period's bright side (the accomplishments in spite of the danger, the dopamine-flowing release after a job well-done, the intense exhilaration of it all) , and the dark side (the fears of the families, the tragic deaths from minor lapses in luck or judgment, the tedious egomania of many involved in the programs).
This book epitomizes the bright and dark side of Wolfe's school of writing, too. Above all, Wolfe can be as riveting and as entertaining as you'll find -- "truth can be funnier than fiction." I have heard how Wolfe caught the essence of what someone wanted to say even better than the one who said it, and he sure puts you into the thick of the action. The author gives a legitimate and interesting perspective. Nevertheless, this style plays heavily on your emotions, with all the problems that can involve, and the book is not terribly objective -- a purely entertaining incident can assume more importance than it should.
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