Follow the Author
Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys Paperback – Deluxe Edition, June 23, 2009
The years that have passed since Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon in July 1969 have done nothing to alter the fundamental wonder of the event: man reaching the moon remains one of the great events--technical and spiritual--of our lifetime.
In Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins conveys, in a very personal way, the drama, beauty, and humor of that adventure. He also traces his development from his first flight experiences in the air force, through his days as a test pilot, to his Apollo 11 space walk, presenting an evocative picture of the joys of flight as well as a new perspective on time, light, and movement from someone who has seen the fragile Earth from the other side of the moon.
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
“Collins tells what his space journeys meant to him as a human being [and] discusses the role of man amid the multitudinous mechanical marvels . . . Profoundly affecting.” ―The New Yorker
“Michael Collins can write . . . No other person who has flown in space has captured the experience so vividly.” ―Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr., The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 40th Anniversary edition (June 23, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374531943
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374531942
- Item Weight : 1.13 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.38 x 1.41 x 8.29 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #617,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on May 16, 2021
Reviews with images
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
In his autobiographical An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, the now retired Hadfield provides one of the most readable and honest stories of his journey from being a glider in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in 1975 to commanding the international space Station in 2013 - after ‘only’ 21 years of astronaut training. He candidly describes the effort and training to get to being a modern astronauts - studying, practicing, learning, waiting, preparing for the worst - then being flexible enough to deal with the unexpected. What I liked is his can do approach as explained in his response to the 1969 Apollo 11moon landing and wanting to become an astronaut:
I also knew, as did every other kid in Canada, that it was impossible. Astronauts were American. NASA only accepted applications from U.S citizens, and Canada didn’t even have a space agency.
I was old enough to understand that getting ready wasn’t simply a matter of playing “space mission” with my brothers in our bunk beds, underneath a big National geographic poster of the Moon. But there was no program I could enroll in, no manual i could read, no one to ask. There was only one option, I decided. I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do exactly the same thing.
His laconic, sometimes counter-intuitive advise is always presented with a wealth of evidence to support his lesson. His Frank assessment of the impact of his dream on the rest of his family make a good reminder for all the corporate males who neglect family events for yet another sales meeting.
Hadfield’s book is a great read and compares favorably with two of my other notable astronaut autobiographies.
At the age of five I was devastated when my mum said to me that I could not become an astronaut. She dashed my probably overly enthusiastic boyish exuberance regarding space exploration explaining that I would need to be both American and a military pilot. Despite this early reality check, and taking a different path to Hadfield, I followed the Apollo program with enthusiasm - racing home from primary school to watch the historic moon-walk of Armstrong and Aldrin.
Of those Apollo 11 voyagers only Michael Collins put pen to paper to capture his journeys as an astronaut in the vivid and captivating Carrying the Fire. Collins displays a fine writing style and wry sense of humor. He wrote from an earlier time than Hadfield. Collins was part of the “Apollo fourteen”, the third group of astronauts, after being unsuccessful for selection in the second group, the “New Nine”.
Collins adroitly describes his emergence as an astronaut, training for and flying on Gemini 10 with John Young and participating in the US’s third “space walk”. Collins was originally picked as part of the Apollo 8 crew. He was replaced by Jim Lovell when a bone spur was discovered on his spine, requiring surgery. He relates his feelings at losing this opportunity, Apollo 8 became the bold second manned Apollo flight all the way to circle the Moon, and then gaining his place in history as the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11.
Other books from this era that deserve a mention are Deke Slayton’s Deke and John Glenn’s A Memoir. Both of these were of the Mercury 7. Glenn’s memoir is so straight that it strains the reader’s credulity. Extraordinarily enough it is all John Glenn - astronaut, married family man, US Senator - it is definitely one of an uncomplicated patriotic kind. Slayton was different, grounded with a heart irregularity and instead of flying became the first Chief of the Astronaut Corps and selected the crews who flew Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions. His book, written as he was dying from cancer, covers the full space race period up to his retirement post the start of the Space Shuttle era.
Other books of note are books by Eugene Cernan The Last Man on the Moon, and John Young’s Forever Young.
My third must read astronaut autobiography though is Mike Mullane’s Riding Rockets.
This in my mind is a minor classic, again so different to both Collins and Hadfield. Mullane was part of the Space Shuttle generation of astronauts, the 1978 class of TFNGs (the Thirty Five New Guys), a group that included the first female NASA astronauts. This book contains an emotional level and cadence not pictured in other first hand astronaut memoirs.
Mullane, a self-confessed inhabitant from planet ‘arrested development’ shares his growing pains in recognising that women could be colleagues and brilliant astronauts at that. His brutally honest depiction of losing his friend Judy Resnik in the Challenger disaster due to NASA hubris. Mullane describes in vivid detail the subsequent appalling bureaucratic treatment of the family members who were present at the disastrous launch. His own experience prior to this when STS-27 suffered near catastrophic heat shield damage from launch damage makes this description all the more poignant.
The whole fateful uncertainty of the Space Shuttle era, the “glory and the folly” of this remarkable era in human exploration of near space is wittily and cuttingly told. If you aren’t both amazed and angered in reading this memoir than I suggest you go back and read it again.
Chris Hadfield | An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth | Little Brown & Company | 2013 | ISBN 978-0-316-25301-7 | 295 pp | hardback
Michael Collins | Carrying the Fire | 1974 | 40th Anniversary edition 2009 | Farrar Straus and Giroux | ISBN 978-0-374-53194-2 | 478 pp | paperback
Mike Mullane | Riding Rockets | Scribner | 2006 | ISBN 978-0-7432-7683-2 | 382 pp | paperback
This review first published on dragonlaughing
He somehow resists the urge to turn his story into self-adulation, bully pulpit, or tedium; an urge that seemingly overpowered many of his fellow astronauts when they 'wrote' their own books. His 'reporter's eye' and droll wit is especially surprising in someone that is a military academy graduate, career officer (he retired with great distinction as a lieutenant general), and a trained engineer.
Collin's description of the training and flight of Gemini 10 with 'Corned Beef' John Young is vivid and arresting. His narration of his space walk is so entrancing that it settled the question -- at least, for me -- what it was truly like 'up there'.
Apollo 11, the Big Enchilada, is one of the book's finest segments. Collins gives readers such a sense of belonging to the mission themselves that it is irresistible. He describes the training in the simulators, the torture in the 'Vomit Comet' and the 'G-Wheel', and how it was to work with Armstrong and Aldrin. In this last, he is frank and candid. As he notes, it is difficult to have so many 'overachieving sons of overachievers' working together without some friction. He relates a small flare between the other two, after a 'crash' on the lunar surface during simulator training. This incident later appeared, nearly verbatim in the magnificent Tom Hanks 'From Earth to Moon' series.
Collins also takes particular care to pay homage and respect to the most unappreciated and neglected of the astronaut's support system -- his wife, Patricia. By the way, he and Patricia are still married (to each other), for about a half century, having been married at Chambley, France, which happens to be where I was born. Although I doubt that the two events are related. At least, one hopes so.
This book also has the advantage of giving color and life to other books about the space program, particularly Andrew Chaikin's wonderful 'A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts', and Gene Kranz's 'Failure Is Not An Option'.
Collins has that most difficult-to-exercise gift of the writer -- what to leave on the cutting room floor. I always found myself feeling, as I do with a great actor, of wanting just a little more. He never over-explains, and his description, even of the most prosaic and mundane things, is terse, apt, and still vibrant and vivid. I believe that he could write a pilot's checklist and make it absorbing. This is one of the books that I buy in bulk, and give away. Not only is it a record of a fascinating time in history, but it is a fine example of how such a tale should be written.
A small aside about the humor in the book; there is a footnote regarding radio procedures among fighter pilots that is simply one of the funniest things that I've ever read. How many footnotes have ever made you laugh aloud? I read the book (in one sitting, I might add, and yes -- it's that good) while occupying a booth next to a plate-glass window in a tavern during an afternoon of mixed thundershowers and blasting sunlight. When I read that particular bon mot, I roared, causing the other customers to stare and the waitress to bring me a glass of water and ask if I were all right.
I also owe a personal debt to Michael Collins. My brilliant and beautiful wife, Diane, are getting ready to retire. When our financial adviser asked me to describe my goals for a perfect retirement, I thought for a moment, and paraphrased something that Collins had said in his magnificent book: "Sitting on the porch in the evening, and talking to my wife."
Top reviews from other countries
The book was written in 1974, Collins having retired from Nasa in January 1970, just a few months after Buzz Aldrin. I suppose there is not much challenge left to a man who had flown to the Moon though I had always felt it must have been disappointing for Collins to have gone all that way and not set foot on the surface. I now know different, Collins was offered further flights and it is likely he would have commanded Apollo 17 had he opted to remain with Nasa though this book reveals just how tough, in particular on the families of the Astronauts, and dangerous the job was. Today we look back on Apollo and tend to forget those Astronauts lost in flying accidents (most were test pilots and continued to fly during training) or on Apollo 1 and the near fatal Apollo 13 flight (I vividly remember following 13 at Primary school) perhaps we see it with rose-tinted hindsight. That the families, lacking hindsight, could not know that there would be no more losses until Challenger, along with the intense training regime with weeks spent in Florida whilst families were housed in Houston, brings the realisation that intense dedication for even these high flyers was required and it also shows why individual astronauts flew only a few missions each.
By the time he joined the Astronaut programme, Michael Collins had already ejected from an F86 and had been a test pilot with the USAF. Selected as an Astronaut, he details here the training programmes that were to prepare him for his 1st flight and Spacewalk aboard Gemini 10, itself a stepping stone to JFK’s challenge to the USA to set a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the 1960s. On the Gemini mission, John Young manoeuvred the capsule to rendezvous and dock with an Agena engine pre-placed in orbit and used it to boost them to a new height record. Collins describes the techniques of piloting the craft and the concerns during that flight of fuel burn, his sore knee – caused by the bends – and the spacewalk he completed before successful re-entry and pick up.
Moving on to Apollo was a whole new ball game and initially a tragic one as one of Collins’ first acts with the programme was to break the news of her husband’s death in the Apollo 1 capsule fire to Martha Chaffee. During 1968, Collins noticed that his legs were not working as they should, then as he walked down stairs, his knee would almost give way. His left leg also had unusual sensations when in hot and cold water. Reluctantly he sought medical advice and the diagnosis was a cervical disc herniation, requiring two vertebrae to be fused together. The surgery was followed by 3 months in a neck brace thus removing him from the crew of Apollo 9 but ironically paving the way for his participation in Apollo 11 as crews were juggled! Perhaps the most fortuitous injury in history.
The Apollo 11 mission record starts, appropriately, with Chapter 11 and takes from here until the end of the book. The training regimes, different for Collins who would remain on the Command Module and Armstrong and Aldrin who would take the LM, are detailed from here on as are minute details such as the design of the mission patch to big issues such as Collins noting on launch that Armstrong’s clothing was uncomfortably near the abort handle, to the landing of Eagle and Collin’s attempts to spot the LM whilst orbiting all are well told. As the 1st mission to land on the moon the 6-week quarantine period after landing is also recorded though Collins is suitably sceptical to its efficacy if they had been contaminated by moon bugs. The Apollo 11 mission is fascinating in the telling as well as the fact.
My edition of the book was the 2001 edition with a Foreword by Charles Lindbergh (yes that one). My only criticism of the book is that the quality of the photos was not great as they were printed on the same paper as the text rather than on photographic paper this is a shame as the Nasa has some superb colour shots of both Gemini 10 and Apollo 11. Having said that this doesn’t detract from the story. In addition to the text there are a number of tables comparing the different flights of each programme and sketch drawings throughout the book to explain some of the more technical concepts – though nothing here is hard to understand.
I had to put the book down at times just to revel in it and enjoy the moments.
One thing which does come out of it is: what do you do with your life after it has reached such a unique, unrepeatable peak? He touches on this too. It's not surprising that all 3 astronauts never flew again.
Another thing is: the enormous influence that the astronauts had on the conduct of the entire enterprise. I get the feeling, from reading about later programs eg the space shuttle, that later on 'managers' and administrators started to take over, which coincided (?) with the devaluation and essentially fizzling out of the manned space programs.
Any interview with Michael Collins is entertaining, honest and informative, and this book is exactly the same. It's all his own words, no ghost writer was used and his character shines through. It covers his background from schooldays onwards to becoming a pilot, then a test pilot and after that his three attempts to join the astronaut corps. He describes the day to day life of an astronauts as well as the training and missions and makes even the most complicated subjects, such as orbital mechanics, easy to understand. I can thoroughly recommend this book, and I want to stop writing this review and get back to reading it- it's that good!