- Paperback: 784 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (November 27, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476727813
- ISBN-13: 978-1476727813
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 259 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong Paperback – November 27, 2012
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"Historian James Hansen…expertly combines the saga of Armstrong with the historical background of America's introduction to the Age of Space. An excellent book." (Captain James A. Lovell, Commander, Apollo 13)
"Most of the astronauts books are about the adventure. Jim Hansen¿s well-researched and documented book is about the adventurer. First Man is a compelling story of a modern day Columbus, which provides the rare opportunity to understand the personal qualities driving explorers. Quiet, complex, and deep, Armstrong, as fuel was running out, was the right man at the right time to take America and the world to the surface of the moon (Eugene F. Kranz, Author, Failure is not an Option)
"Jim Hansen has captured the essence of Neil Armstrong, not only as the first man on the Moon, but also as an outstanding aviator and astronaut. I was there for Neil¿s other major ¿space step¿ ¿ he recovered Gemini 8 from the ultimate end game with aggressive action, cool skill and creative judgment seldom performed in any aviation or space endeavor. Just 16 days after the deaths of the Gemini 9 crew, he probably saved the Moon. Jim Hansen has written an exceptional and accurate account of a unique period in aerospace history and the adventures of Neil Armstrong." (Dave Scott, Gemini VIII, Apollo 9, Commander, Apollo 15)
"A fine authorized biography brimming with groundbreaking research, fresh anecdotes and fair-minded analysis. . . . Hansen should be commended for decoding the enigmatic Armstrong: a space hero short on words but sky-high on Midwestern integrity." (Douglas Brinkley The New York Times Book Review)
"For Americans who lived through it all, and for those who came later and can't imagine such an achievement, First Man is compelling reading." (Thomas Walton Toledo Blade)
"A powerful, unrelenting biography of a man who stands as a living testimony to everyday grit and determination. . . . A magnificent panorama of the second half of the American twentieth century. . . . A must for astronaut buffs and history readers alike." (Publishers Weekly)
"A lot of us have been waiting a long time for a book like this one, and it was well worth the wait. . . . Will likely stand as the definitive biography of Neil Armstrong." (Tom D. Crouch, Senior Curator, Aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
"Masterfully written . . . technically accurate, scholarly yet independent and accessible. . . . Mission accomplished and a perfect touchdown." (Leonard David, Ad Astra, The Magazine of the National Space Society)
"First Man burrows deep into Armstrong's past and present. . . . What emerges is an earnest and brave man." (Mark Carreau Houston Chronicle)
"To understand Armstrong on his own terms is to see a large truth of our time. . . .A compelling and nuanced portrait." (James Tobin Chicago Tribune)
About the Author
James R. Hansen is a professor emeritus of history at Auburn University. A former historian for NASA, Hansen is the author of twelve books on the history of aerospace and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in History. His 1995 book Spaceflight Revolution was nominated for the Pulitzer by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time NASA ever nominated a book for the prize. He serves as coproducer for the upcoming major motion picture First Man, which is based on his New York Times bestselling biography of Neil Armstrong. Hansen lives in Auburn, Alabama.
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=== The Good Stuff ===
* James Hansen evidently had pretty good access to Armstrong. He had a wealth of personal, family and professional history, including the occasional glimpse behind the scenes. There are a few interesting tidbits and some bone-headed maneuvers throughout the years, all of which make the man "more human".
* Armstrong was evidently a very private man, and very careful about what parts of his thoughts and personality were going to be available for public discussion. Occasionally Hansen succeeds in penetrating this stoic front and capturing glimpses of Armstrong's thoughts. For example, he explains multiple times that he was not at all disappointed or angered that crew-companion Edwin Aldrin never took a picture of him while on the moon. He says multiple times that it was just the way the time-line of the moon walk worked out, and he is sure there was no "revenge" factor because Aldrin didn't get to step out of the LEM first. He repeats himself, again and again. It is not hard to get the feeling that it is something that has bothered him all these years, but he is too professional to admit.
* The book is certainly detailed. (See more thoughts below). Hansen carefully builds a portrait of Armstrong based on his personal, professional and military career of a man cool and calm under pressure, and capable of thinking his way through problems when all the alarm buzzers are flashing red. He relates a story of where Armstrong had baled out of a plane, nearly killing himself, early in the morning. Coworkers found him working at his desk that afternoon as if nothing had happened.
* The latter parts of the book, from about the time of the Gemini launches, were much better than the beginning, and held my interest. Even the explanations of his "reclusive" behavior later in life were also very revealing and captivating.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* NASA was a great believer in weight reduction, and this book could have used some of that skill. I have no interest in Armstrong's medieval ancestors, and I have strong doubts about records that old anyway. Likewise, I really don't care that his Mother made her own wedding cake, or that it was "an iced angel food cake in three graduated layers ornamented with rosebuds and garlands". The book is full of such detail, although at least in latter parts of the book the detail actually concerns the subject. It is almost as if the author was determined to use every scrap of information he could find about Armstrong, interesting or not.
* Similarly, Hansen could have added details which might not have been directly available. For example, a number of times the text mentions the problem of "roll coupling", an aerodynamic problem of high speed flight in which the inertia of an aircraft overcomes the counter-effects of its control surfaces (thanks, Google). But while the book went on for pages and pages about Armstrong's Mother's favorite teacher, it couldn't devote a paragraph or two to a phenomenon that almost killed Armstrong, twice.
* By about the first ten pages, I was sick of hearing about his Mother and her religious fervor. Enough already.
=== Summary ===
There is a lot to like about this book, but an almost equal amount to dislike. I came very close to putting the book down for good during the first 100 pages or so, but glad I kept at it, because it definitely improved as it went on. The author genuinely seemed to like Armstrong, which is fine, but seemed to let that cloud his analysis of some of the personal and professional conflicts in Neil's life. You could almost feel Hansen taking Armstrong's side in a few conflicts.
Overall, I'd recommend it to fans of the space program, but with the caveat that it is OK to skip over entire sections of the text without missing anything interesting or important.
Hansen conducted 55 hours of extensive taped interviews with Armstrong and was granted unparalleled access to his family and friends. The product is a detailed, accurate, and extensive chronicle of Armstrong throughout every phase of his life. Boyhood aviation enthusiast, Naval Aviator, test pilot, astronaut, family man, and historical icon; they are all here.
Authorized biographies can sometimes turn into hagiographic, and sanitized versions of the actual subject, but not here. Neil is portrayed as he was perceived by his friends and coworkers, warts and all. He was a quiet and often guarded individual whose disciplined engineering personality was well suited to the sometimes harrowing professions of test pilot and astronaut, but perhaps not so well suited to the role of spouse.
Hansen plumbs the depths of one America's greatest, misunderstood, and most reluctant heroes better than any author. First Man will stand as the definitive character study of our time's greatest historical figure.
This is a good book for scholars who wish to study Neil Armstrong's life in depth. For those who wish to have a general overview of Neil's Armstrong's life, I would suggest you look elsewhere for a more concise book.