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Of a Fire on the Moon Paperback – December, 1985

3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Grove Pr (December 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394620194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394620190
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,351,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on April 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I did not read "Of a Fire on the Moon" until years after the conclusion of the Apollo Moon landings between 1969 and 1972. Even so, Norman Mailer had inspired me since I first read "The Naked and the Dead" while in high school. At first, "Of a Fire on the Moon" did not attract me, however; it was so existentialist, so counterculture, so Jack Kerouac-esque. It wasn't until the 1990s when I began to explore the cultural history of Project Apollo as an icon of America memory that I returned to "Of a Fire on the Moon" and came to appreciate it's insights.
As one of the foremost contemporary American writers, Mailer was commissioned to write about the first lunar landing in the 1960s. What appeared in 1970 was this rather confusing account that is written as almost stream of consciousness ruminations on spaceflight. It provides useful insights, most importantly as Mailer with his 1960s countercultural mindset meets its antithesis, a NASA steeped in middle class values and reverence for the American flag and culture.
Mailer was forced in "Of a Fire on the Moon," grudgingly to admit that NASA's approach to task accomplishment--which he sees as the embodiment of the Protestant Work Ethic--and its technological and scientific capability got results with Apollo. He rails at NASA's closed and austere society, one where he says outsiders are distrusted and held at arm's length with a bland and faceless courtesy that betrays nothing.
For all of its skepticism, for all of its esotericism, the book captures powerful insights into rocket technology and the people who produced it in Project Apollo, but it is also heavy going to extract them from this dense book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you read one book about the Apollo moon landings....this is the one. Any other account is superficial in comparison. The author gives concise technical details of the equipment and procedures of the flight. He also explores the motivation and "psychology" of the astronauts without going gaga over their celebrity. Some funny parts are when he describes the frustration of standing in line for an hour for one soda machine (in a forest of spicy food vending machines, unused). He says 3 men at a ballpark concession stand could service the line in a few minutes. From there he has a dialog of how machines are not the answer to everything.
Another related episode is describing how the NASA engineers prefer to eat alone in their cubicles without interfacing with other humans because they are preoccupied with their technical problems...very accurate.
He compares the specialists of Mission Control to a professor having at his disposal a room of exports on English writers, poets, etc. There are other humorous examples in the book.
Toward the end of the book he weighs in with a history of how computers work, this at a time when most people's exposure to a computer was a card that said "don't fold, staple or mutilate" in their utility bill. His technical description of computers is very well done, and this is the only book on the subject that gives an accurate enough description of the computers in use at Houston and on the spacecraft that allows you to directly compare them to what we have today in a home computer. (32k of memory, for instance, on the spacecraft computers).
His technical accounts of the moon voyage are accurate and cover interesting detail I do not see by other writers; maybe if you dig into enough NASA documents you might find them. He puts a human face on the whole achievment and gives his opinion of what it all means. I think he was less impressed about it than I was, but this book is the best.
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Format: Hardcover
Over 30 years after that glorious summer, its a shock to realise that a tired and jaded novelist described the mission and the technical accomplishment best. Short of money and only just coming to terms with an awful flirtation with politics, this is Mailer's most under-rated and forgotten book.
Its roughly divided into three parts; a deeply personal (egotistic?) description of the weeks leading up to the launch itself; a much larger description of the science and engineering of the Apollo Saturn spacecraft; and a weaker final section attempts to put the event into some kind of social and historical context. This last section is the most dated - remember you're reading an absolutely contemporary account here - the Apollo missions were still on-going when the book was published in 1970-71.
America became bored with space travel, and Mailer (with astonishing foresight) detects and describes the causes - the remorseless banality of the astronauts, and the fearsomely conformist culture of NASA itself.
Overall this is a great book, it has stood the test of time very well, and its a great starting point for anyone interested in the moon landing. Its high time for a reprint and new introduction by the author - and lets thank him for a well written and very honest account of what may be (for historians) the most important event of 20th century, bar none.
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Format: Hardcover
I did not read this book until a few years ago but I did witness the events and the moon landing itself on TV as a child. The simplest way for me to express my feelings about this book are try to imagine witnessing a great event and being unable to put it into words. When Mailer describes the take off and the climactic events preceding the landing on the moon it is awe inspiring and I guarantee your pulse will quicken. If you are like me and still fascinated by space and that period of space exploration I urge you to read it.
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