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The First Soviet Cosmonaut Team: Their Lives and Legacies (Springer Praxis Books) Paperback – December 23, 2008
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The Amazon Book Review
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From the reviews:
"In this book … Burgess (Australian spaceflight historian) and Hall (British education consultant) provide a wealth of interesting information on the first group of 20 Soviet cosmonauts. … Like the first American astronauts, the cosmonauts interacted in both a cooperative and competitive manner. … The book includes many photographs of the cosmonauts in training and in their personal lives, as well as some recent images of the few surviving members from the original group. Summing Up: Recommended. All undergraduate and public libraries." (J. Z. Kiss, Choice, Vol. 46 (10), June, 2009)
“This is a much needed reference work on the early history of the Soviet cosmonaut team. The authors have done an exemplary job in putting together a vast amount of information into a coherent volume that will undoubtedly be of great use for future researchers. That the pictures in this volume are of the highest quality only adds to its value.” (Asif Siddiqi, Quest, Vol. 18 (4), 2011)
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The book covers a rather surprising amount of area and features both good writing and scholarship. It's far from a dry biography. The book itself covers the usual areas you would expect. Things like their training and life after the space program. The book also delves into some of the mysteries of the program. Things like the "missing cosmonauts". These were men who were in the program and then suddenly removed and when I say removed I mean completely removed. Photographs that showed groups of cosmonauts together suddenly had a cosmonaut airbrushed out of the picture like he never existed. This book covers this area and the rumors of cosmonauts who were killed in missions that were then simply covered up like they never happened. The authors answer these questions extremely well due to some excellent research.
While I had read books by both of these authors in the past and enjoyed them, I think this book may be their best work. I think most people interested in this historical era will greatly enjoy it and find it an excellent reference tool as well.
It is a series of mini biographies of the cosmonauts in chronological order, and explains a lot of the "lost cosmonaut" legends (which were just that, legends).
The poignant stories of the men who never made it to space are quite touching, especially the story of young Bondarenko and his premature death.
Much more attention is given to how the selections were made for the "first 20" than is given to further Soyuz missions, but I found the details interesting and felt they gave a lot of humanity to the men and women involved.
Very little is written about the parallel NASA program, but there are good books on the subject already.
If you have more than a passing interest in this subject I highly recommend this book. Several times primary sources (interviews with the cosmonauts themselves) are used and I liked those sections above all.
Another good book on this subject is Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. Those two books together should be enough to satisfy any CCCP-era space buff.