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Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest Paperback – November 1, 2006

2.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When President Kennedy announced that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, he forced NASA to assume a "faster, cheaper, better" mindset that continues to bedevil it today, says DeGroot (The Bomb: A History). The space agency quickly came up against the budgetary pressures of the Vietnam War and expanding domestic programs, but as DeGroot writes, Lyndon Johnson insisted the U.S. would meet his predecessor's goal, even as NASA's budget was cut every year. DeGroot reveals that engineers turned a blind eye on slipshod components in order to meet impossible deadlines. NASA's public relations machine portrayed its astronauts as wholesome all-Americans even as many of them behaved like rutting frat boys when off duty. The claim has often been made that consumers benefited from the space program, but the author points out that Tang, Velcro and Teflon were invented long before Sputnik was launched. DeGroot writes with 20-20 hindsight, and his sarcasm may put off some readers, although it makes for entertaining reading. Anyone interested in a corrective view to the official hagiographies of the space program will find this acid-etched history hard to put down. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

If asked to name the greatest technological achievement of the twentieth century, many people would say the 1969 Apollo moon landing. They would be surprised to discover that this superlative achievement had a dark side. How many of us knew that the U.S. government took its initial rocket technology directly from Nazi Germany and absorbed their leading scientists for the purpose of "security"? Perhaps not many, which is why historian Degroot should be commended for shining a light on the lunar quest. Citing American competitiveness, Degroot argues that the moon landing was primarily a stunt of one-upmanship: the Russians getting into space first with Sputnik had a profound affect on Americans, as politicians and citizens alike became obsessed with beating them to the moon. Never mind the "obscenely huge" cost of a lunar mission and consequent risk to defense, or that sending a man into space was perhaps negligible in terms of science. At the present time, when NASA has scheduled another moon shot for 2018, Degroot revisits the question that should have been fully explored the last time around: Why? Jerry Eberle
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814719953
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814719954
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,613,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. Belasco on November 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Dark Side Of The Moon is a highly uneven book written by Gerard DeGroot, a Professor of History and an award winning author. The book adopts the now generally accepted view the America's space program in the 1960s was driven by cold war politics rather than important scientific goals. The book also argues that the Apollo program was a dead end for space exploration rather than a significant event in the ongoing human exploration of space. The author then proceeds from these not unusual ideas to argue that America's manned exploration of space was a massive waste of money, a mere American ego trip and a grossly mismanaged rush to the moon. These are much more debatable propositions.

The shocking aspect of the book is that the author of this "history" relies on an Apollo mission to the moon that never took place as part of his argument that Apollo was an ill conceived rush to the moon. DeGroot believes that Apollo astronauts made three trips to the moon prior to the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, thus making even the Apollo 11 flight to the moon "routine." Showing his lack of knowledge of what actually happened in the Apollo program, DeGroot writes on pages 230-231 -

"For NASA, Apollo 8 provided valuable confirmation that the package which would take Americans to the Moon actually worked. Apollo 9 then took on the original profile of Apollo 8, except for the fact that, given the earlier mission's success, there seemed little point in testing the lunar module in Earth orbit. The crew of James McDivitt, David Scott, and Rust Schweickart therefore went to the Moon. After the command module separated from the spent rocket, the crew turned it around and then docked with the lunar module, which was still enclosed in Saturn's final stage.
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Format: Paperback
A spring 1999 poll of opinion leaders sponsored by leading news organizations in the United States ranked the 100 most significant events of the twentieth century and the Apollo landings on the Moon muscled itself to a very close second to the splitting of the atom. Probably historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. best summarized the position of many opinion leaders polled: "The one thing for which this century will be remembered 500 years from now was...when we began the exploration of space" (Arlene Levinson, "Atomic bombing of Hiroshima tops Journalists' List of Century's News," Associated Press, February 24, 1999). Not surprisingly, both the development of the atomic bomb and the Apollo program has enjoyed enormous attention as a subject of historical research and writing. University of Andrews historian Gerard J. DeGroot, having already tackled the story of the bomb, turns his attention to the Moon landings in "Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest."

He begins with the appropriate concern that Apollo has taken on mythical qualities, and is remembered with nostalgia for a time long gone. Such a situation begs for an antidote, and apparently DeGroot considers himself just the person to deliver it. Questioning the reasons for the Apollo program, as well as the execution and results of it, DeGroot presents a poorly researched book--based almost exclusively on secondary materials, and then even missing many of the most significant of those works--with an excessively over-the-top thesis that is both indemonstrable and ineffectively argued. While I believe it is appropriate to criticize aspects of the history of space age, responsible criticism grounded in the historical record should always inform it.
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Format: Paperback
It grabbed my attention when I first saw it: an overview history of the US space program, written by a foreigner who presumably didn't grow up with NASA propaganda. It started out strong, with a 50,000' survey of the German WWII-era missile program, then shifts to the American reaction to Soviet space efforts. But the author can't resist showing us how utterly cosmopolitan and sophisticated and ironic he is, especially compared to us uncultured Yanks. In his discussion of the National Defense Education Act, which funded science and engineering students, he snarks that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, received his education under it. So what? So did I, and so did most people I know. Almost no women find space appealing? News to this one. Vending machine suppliers made lots of money selling candy at NASA? So what? NASA employees were as human as the rest of us. DeGroot's main research into everyday life in the US in the 60s seems to come from watching old sitcoms.

Two stars for making me look up some of the early history of the space race, but otherwise you can save your time and money. Wolfe's The Right Stuff covered the fallibility of the astronauts a lot better, and the excellent HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, though extremely pro-NASA, presents varied views, including the effects of the space program on the astronauts' families, with much more impact that DeGroot does.
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Format: Paperback
Any credibility Gerard DeGroot has as a "historian" is lost when one considers the length he goes to skew the facts to fit his personal agenda -- as has already been pointed out by many lesser degreed individuals in this opinion section.

However, one only has to look at a Feb 25, 2009 published "commentary" that appeared in the Telegraph (UK) newspaper at: [...]

In it, he concludes with the following statement: "But the final word goes to Eisenhower, who once vetoed Apollo. He reminded Americans that "every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed".

In reality, the actual quote attributed to President Eisenhower that Gerard DeGroot manipulates to suit his position is, in reality, a completely different message which has nothing to do with Project Apollo specifically, or the space program in general, but rather the penalties of war: "Every gun that is fired, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
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