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Thread Of The Silkworm Paperback – November 15, 1996

3.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Few Americans remember Tsien Hsue-shen, the subject of this book. Born in China in 1911, he came to the United States during the 1930s, earned a Ph.D. at Caltech, and made major contributions to aeronautics, rocketry, and other fields. After applying for U.S. citizenship in the 1950s, however, he became an innocent target of the Red Scare and was deported. Then, instead of assuming the leadership role in America's missile and space programs for which he appeared destined, he helped create the Chinese missile and space program that later supplied the Third World with Silkworm missiles. Tsien's incredible life is the story of one of the greatest blunders ever made by the U.S. government. Chang's biography ranges across the histories of rocketry, aeronautics, nuclear weapons development, and U.S.- China relations. With Anna Fields's energetic reading, this fascinating book would make a can't-miss addition to any general audiobook collection.AKent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Thread of the Silkworm tells the story of one of the most monumental blunders the United States committed during its era of McCarthyism. It is the biography of Dr.Tsien Hsue-shen, a pioneer of the American space age who was mysteriously accused of being a Communist and deported to China, where he became-to America's continuing chagrin-the father of the Chinese missile program.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (November 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465006787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465006786
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Iris Chang lived and worked in California. She was a journalism graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana and worked briefly as a reporter in Chicago before winning a graduate fellowship to the writing seminars program at The Johns Hopkins University. Her first book, Thread of the Silkworm (the story of Tsien Hsue-shen, father of the People's Republic of China's missile program) received world-wide critical acclaim. She is the recipient of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation's Program on Peace and International Cooperation award, as well as major grants from the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, and the Harry Truman Library. She passed away in 2004.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I must admit a bias - HS Tsien is my grandfather's cousin. As such, this book is for me the family history that noone would tell me. For other readers, I would say that most history books concentrate on the rise of the USSR as a power, and then *poof!* there's China...how did that happen? Chang's book reveals how China's emergence on the world stage as a military power resulted from the US's own stupidity and xenophobia. My one real complaint about the book is that Chang's writing seems to drive the book to a climax at the point of Tsien's return to China, and then peeters out while she recounts China's race to the ICBM. This inconsistancy makes one feel that Chang herself had lost interest in the story, which is unfortunate. This story is fascinating enough (for anyone interested in history, not just me) to wish that the entire book had been treated with the care that Chang shows Tsien's US phase. Anyways, one leaves the story with feelings of respect and regret for what could have been. Please note that HS Tsien is still a bogeyman for the US intelligence community - he was mentioned, as Qian Xuesen, in the 1999 Cox report during the Los Alamos spy scandal. As far as I know, HS Tsien is still alive.
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Format: Paperback
This is another book written by Iris Chang, author of bestseller "The Rape of Nanking". "Thread of Silkworm" told a fascinating story of a Chinese scientist, Tsien Hsue-Shen, educated in U. S. with great contribution in U. S. rocketry, was falsely accused as a communist and deported back to China in 1950's. Upon return to China, he became the father of Chinese missile program. The book was meticulously researched and superbly written. Iris Chang is a very talented writer; this is evident by this book.
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Format: Paperback
Am I inclined to believe that all foreign born or educated defense scientists (e.g., Tsien and J.R. Oppenheimer) should be presumed "seriously suspect until proven innocent"? If so, to me Chang's book would no doubt leave open the issue whether Tsien had had a Communist leaning, while he was an immigrant in the US from a Nationalist China -- before and during a 'sky rocketting' career which culminated in his roles as JPL Director/Co-Founder; MIT/CalTech full professors; American aerospace pioneer; and a top Pentagon consultant, who grilled Werner von Braun in Germany to write for the US government its report on German aeronautics/rochetry state of the art.
To answer my own question, fortunately, I am not -- at least not consciously. So, let me justify my rating.
Poignantly told with facts organized like an epic novel, Chang's story is the saga of a gifted and industrious "orphan" from endless wars and feudal corruption in China who came to Uncle Sam's neighborhood for schooling, then contributed greatly to Sam's household, but was spurned from it by house stewards for allegedly associating with "people who condone thievery"; who then continued to work hard to be useful to people who appreciated him (as his ambition had always been) in a new career which he again excelled in, after, in the only remaining option he saw, being taken in by a delighted relative Uncle Mao.
As aristocratically brilliant, and yet democratically helpful to students/colleagues he saw as diligent, "why did he embrace the wicked Uncle -- of the proletariat masses of his kins?" you might ask.
'Cuz back in Uncle Sam's household, someone made him learn the lesson "You can't fight City Hall and expect to win.
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Format: Paperback
Thread of the Silkworm was not quite what I expected in terms of a biography about Tsien Hsue-shen. It is a simple and attractive narrative that may have been targeted toward readers that like their reading without overstocked footnotes. It appears that Chang took her research from Tsien's surviving friends, colleagues, and Tsien himself. In addition, her style of writing is somewhat intimate and personal, and she appears to write in a way where she really put much effort in getting to know her subject. Througout the book she made Tsien looked like a hard-nosed and self-centered professor that could careless about his students. But at other times, there are passages in the book where his work overtook him. In addition, it appeared like Chang empathized with what Tsien was going through when he was forced to abandon his research and duties at CalTech.

Nevertheless, Chang does a good job at capturing the period in which Tsien studied, worked, and lived. She attempts to provide detail during World War II, and how Tsien contributed to US rocket technology. However, it appears disturbing of how his life took a turn during the Communist-feared 1950s, and how he became blacklisted and excluded from a society that welcomed his knowledge and participation in the world of science and technology. Indeed, he became a US citizen, but because of unfortunate circumstances at time when ideology knew no boundaries, his talents were transfered overseas.

Thread of the Silkworm was an easy read that will enhance your knowledge about immigration and what occurred during the 1950s. I recommend this book for those interested in biographies, a dab of science, and as Chinese/Asian-American history as well.
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