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They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus: An Incurable Dreamer Builds the First Civilian Spaceship Hardcover – October 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; 1ST edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553108867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553108866
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,050,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Weil, a magazine writer, chronicles the efforts of one baby boomer determined to create a working space ship. Gary Hudson was fascinated with space exploration from his childhood, and by the time he approached his 50th birthday, he had nearly 30 years in the rocket-ship business. An eccentric fellow, Hudson attracted a small group of employees and investors equally as fanatic. Weil shadows Hudson for nearly two years as he attempts to raise money to build and complete the Roton, a single state¤to¤orbit reusable rocket. She attends conventions, speeches, employee barbecues, befriends Hudson's sickly wife and listens endlessly to Hudson's dreams. The book's anecdotes are somewhat reminiscent of stories about the development of computer companies or Internet startups the camaraderie, the hard work and a certain naOvetE about the business world. Weil's writing is simple and occasionally elegant, but the book would have been stronger had she revealed more passion for the subject: she remains an interested but impartial observer. The notion of traveling into space is wildly appealing, but this book never fully engages the reader: unfortunately, Hudson isn't a terribly likable guy and his chances of succeeding seem so slim.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

A community of rocketeers flourishes, and they hope to achieve what NASA has not: cheap access to low-earth orbit. Of the companies founded to pursue that goal, the one chronicled here, the now-liquidated Rotary Rocket, generated scads of publicity in the aerospace press during its short existence; its founder, Gary Hudson, assented to a Boswellian presence to dramatize its fortunes. Weil's bio-narrative of Hudson's exertions faithfully expresses the junction where visionary futurism and practicality meet--usually to the detriment of the vision. An entrepreneur, not an engineer, Hudson had several failed rocket ventures behind him when the rotary-rocket idea possessed him. Weil describes the rocket itself--a hybrid of helicopter blades and spinning rockets--and the financial backing Hudson garnered from telecom mogul Walt Anderson and techno-author Tom Clancy. Becoming more skeptical of Hudson by the page, Weil comes to regard his enterprise as faintly fictive yet emblematic of the unreined enthusiasms of "spacers." They (though perhaps not Hudson himself) will revel in Weil's inside account. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. She lives in San Francisco with her charming, obsessive husband, the writer Daniel Duane, and their two daughters. They used to have a dog, but the dog was more work than the girls. When she first became a journalist, she really wanted to cover big important topics, like the death penalty. But more recently she's wanted to write about love.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Tom Brosz on October 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
First, it should be known that I have worked with Gary Hudson for about thirty years now. I have worked with him and for him in every one of his endeavors. I am working with him now on space projects. I have also and known many of the other people described in this book, and sometimes I think that Weil spent most of her time talking to and being with an entirely different set of people.
Her research on the subject of space is intensive, and it is obvious she has done her best to do her homework. Her background information on the space field is detailed, and as far as I can tell, correct. I know from observation that she spent huge amounts of time at Rotary Rocket interviewing people and hanging around the operation, and that either through extensive note taking or a steel-trap memory, no detail or comment, technical or otherwise, escaped her notice. This is no half-assed writing job. There is a lot of work here. One cannot say this book was written by someone who blew in for a week to take a look around and then left. Which makes the end result more disappointing. More on that later.
The book is almost painful to read, but that might just be me. It seems unsympathetic at best, patronizing at worst. There is a generous supply of unflattering physical descriptions, applied to almost every person in the book, and repeated continuously. Hudson's shaking hands are endlessly commented on. When Zubrin is expounding on his innovative methods and philosophy of space exploration, Weil makes a point of commenting on "projectiles of spit flying from his mouth." Why this is relevant or what function this could have other than to express dislike or even contempt for the subjects is unclear.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey F. Bell on May 20, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There seem to be two reactions to this book: pro-space activists think it's trash, while the normal people who seemingly read it by accident all love it. Here's a third perspective: I strongly believe that we need cheap, reusable, privately owned launch vehicles like the one Rotary Rocket tried to develop. But I love this book because it reveals exactly why none of the many Mom & Pop rocket companies have ever produced one. The main problem is that the people who are strongly motivated to start such firms are mostly impractical dreamers who lack the technical skills and business sense to make them work. Reading Weil's dispassionate description of the Roton development program is like watching the film "Ed Wood" -- you can't believe that these people actually existed and actually believed they were building a workable rocketship. The sane part of the space community always knew that the Roton would be a miserable technical failure for all the reasons given on p.167, but it is really scary to see just how out of touch with reality the major players like Gary Hudson and Walt Anderson really were. And these guys are still active in the alt.space community! I sure hope Elon Musk's SpaceX project succeeds so we don't have to watch any more of these painful failures.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jack Kennedy Jr. on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives some insight to the history on some of the major charcaters at Mojave Spaceport. While I can not judge the book on how it casts the real-life characters of Mojave as the "mecca for emotionally vulnerable fringe technologists," many have walked away from Roton to do some quite interesting, challenging, and, historic space feats. I highly susepct many more historic events will be at the hands of the Roton veterans of Mojave. The evolution of the people from the failure demonstrates the strength of the passion and the determination of the human spirit. The book is an interesting read for those looking for some basic understanding of the connections among the players of Mojave's fledgling commercialization of space. I recommend the book. Gary Hudson, keep going!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Lori Garver, Former NASA Associate Administrator on November 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What a disappointment that Elizabeth Weil missed not only the point of space development and it's leadership, but the opportunity to communicate the importance of their cause. Weil obviously spent a significant amount of time with Gary Hudson and other leaders of the space activist community in her research for the book. Yet, she seems more interested in pointing out various human frailties and short comings of these dedicated individuals, than describing the true selfless vision that drives them every day.
In this day and age of ENRON scandals it is unbelieveable that Weil does not recognize how much Gary and Anne Hudson have personally sacrificed in order to provide a better life and future for humanity. Gary's continued efforts to open space for future generations is nothing short of heroic. If he had put his significant talents to work at either NASA or the aerospace industry I have no doubt that he would have gained more financially and personally than he has working as a space entrepreneur. The reason he, and others, have chosen this path is because they truly believe it has a greater opportunity for success.
The space community no doubt is characterized by its share of science fiction aficionados and techie-geeks. My experience has also proven to me that the majority of these people, and most assuradly Gary Hudson, are contributing to a better future for humanity. If that inspiration comes from science fiction, I'll buy Heinlein and Asimov rather than Weil for my kids' libraries any day.
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