Customer Reviews: Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space
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on September 27, 2012
I will start by apologising for the length of this review, but "FOREVER YOUNG" is more than just another biography/ space book, it is an historical document, the collected thoughts of by far the most experienced human space voyager. As such it represents essential reading for anyone interested in human spaceflight engineering or history. Whether or not one agrees with the author, his views are the product of far greater first hand experience of human space exploration, in both operational and management roles, than that of any other human being that has so far lived.

I have both the hard back and Kindle editions. The quality, quantity, presentation and range of illustrations provided in both leaves a lot to be desired. However, apart from the personal pictures, these are available from other sources. The Kindle edition is good, but the index is basically useless.

The book itself is not for novices. Nor, contrary to what readers may expect from the expansion of the title "a life of adventure in air and space", is it a book of "boys own" adventure stories. A level of knowledge of engineering, piloting, space history and astronomy is assumed. If the reader lacks basic knowledge in any of these areas then portions of this book will be confusing or even incomprehensible. Thankfully the author covers the full span of his career, unlike many other astronaut biographies. However, the result has been that some areas receive a very thin treatment indeed, this book could easily have been twice as long to do them all justice.

This brings me to the book's most serious problem, it is literally riddled with errors, far too numerous to recount in any detail. Whether these are merely the result of appalling proof reading, I cannot say. They range from easily spotted typos, for example the statement in the foreword that Mr. Young commanded Apollo 15 (it was Apollo 16), through the obviously wrong but requiring more investigation. Did VA-216 fly A-1/ AD-4 Skyraiders or A-4 Skyhawks? The answer is both, but the reference in the book should be to the A-4 Skyhawk. Or the probably wrong - but perhaps it's an obscure new term ("delta feed", do you mean "delta V"?), to the perplexing (Gemini X "we were standing on our seats in the cockpit", no they weren't, only Mr Collins was, which the author obviously knows, so why does it appear?). To photographically provable nonsense (LM-4 had no landing gear - er, yes it did). I could go on for hours but you get the idea. "FOREVER YOUNG" may yet form the basis of a space geek "spot the mistake" game. One problem is that if you don't know your stuff you may come away with some very funny ideas, and considering their apparent source, you'd be within your rights to be pretty adamant that they were correct. In the future the book will be viewed as a primary source, and Space history doesn't need this. I really hope that subsequent editions correct the litany of errors. The other effect for me was that it made me wary of much of the rest of the content, if the simple stuff is so riddled with mistakes, how accurate is the rest?

Next, the style, this book reads in many ways more like a collection of notes (or, considering the author's professional style, memos). It is quite annoyingly repetitive, some points are made well out of chronological sequence without specifically saying so. At other times explanations are lacking to the point of being obscure. The author insists on quoting burn times, delta Vs, orbiter touch down sink rates etc at almost every opportunity when these add absolutely nothing to his tale. If he felt that their inclusion was important then by all means include them in an appendix for those who haven't read the mission reports or programme summaries produced by NASA. Meanwhile, in many instances the author neglects discussing the reasons or his thoughts about the events being mentioned. Here's one example, taken from Mr Young's first voyage to the Moon on Apollo 10:

"I controlled the firing of the service propulsion system, which accelerated us to 2,960 feet per second and placed us in a lunar orbit of 59.6 by 169.1 nautical miles above the Moon's surface. We did additional maneuvers to get our orbit to 61.2 by 60 nautical miles."

Well firstly that should be decelerated, and I think a quick explanation of why they didn't aim for an exact circular 60 nautical mile orbit would be in order - (since he considers a precise listing of orbital parameters to be worth while, why not explain, not all readers will know this). Not to mention that a little more description of what it was like to enter lunar orbit for his first time would have hardly gone amiss.

Or from that same voyage, how's this for a description of reaching the fastest speed ever by any humans:

"I was in the commander's seat operating the entry. We were on automatic and came in at a speed of 36,315 feet per second - a little over 24,760 miles per hour - which proved to be the fastest entry of any Apollo spacecraft . . .
Our guidance system commanded full 'lift-up' through peak acceleration, which was 6.8g. When the forces backed off to 5.8g, the spacecraft rolled to 90 degrees . . ."

You might as well just read the mission report or technical crew debriefing. Why the fast return? How did it feel, noisy, rough? What could you see? Did anyone say anything? In fact, in general Mr Young's descriptions of his six space missions are disappointingly bland. Of course, many other astronaut autobiographies suffer from the same problem. As a final word about style, be sure to also read the 'notes' section at the back, much of which should, I feel, have been incorporated in the main text.

Every now and again we are offered a glimpse of Mr Young's famous insights and sense of humour. Talking about Apollo 16:

"The hardest part of all human extravehicular activity on the Moon was getting back into the lunar module".

Or awaiting the first space shuttle launch:

"I was also thinking about what a grand time it would be if Crip and I used those ejection seats just to fly through the 5,000 °F plumes of the solid rocket motors!"

I just wish there were more.

As an autobiography the book is useful in filling out the blanks in Mr. Young's non-space flight career, although again he misses the opportunity to really involve the reader. So what's it like when the canopy comes off your F-8 at around 500 knots? I still don't know, but at least I now know that it happened. No opinion on the introduction of the mirror landing sight and angled deck to naval aviation? On the personal side it is pretty tight lipped, although we now know about his mother's unfortunate illness. We get one line on his first marriage "it was a mismatch from the beginning". Whilst wholly in keeping with Mr. Young's character, I feel this limits the book's wider appeal.

In discussing his career after his final space flight the author is more passionate and you get more of an insight into what drives him. The discussion of some of the space shuttle's problems is illuminating, although considering the constant inadequate funding and safety issues I cannot concur with his conclusion that the programme could have gone on until 2030. His discussion of the NEO threat is interesting and I wholeheartedly agree, I hope that he continues to push for action, preferably on an international basis - it is not a problem for Americans alone. In his thinking about how we can all make the next trip forward, Mr Young makes a powerful case for a return to the Moon, with more passion and logic than some of the common "space mining" etc suggestions of past decades. He gives a modern rationale of the need for exploration, far more useful than Mr Mallory's much quoted exasperated retort to a journalist (which is now mistakenly thought of as the reason by many people).

Overall this is by no means the waste of reader's time that, for example the late Mr Cooper's and Mr Shepard's books represent. It is not the essential "personnel file" that Mr Hansen's biograpghy of the late Mr Armstrong provided us with. Nor is it the riveting first person view of space flight provided by Mr Collins and Mr Worden. What it is to me is essential but flawed reading - badly in need of a corrected and revised second edition. Perhaps there is a market for a "FOREVER YOUNG" study guide, correcting errors and explaining the details. (A paperback edition containing many corrections has since been released. Unfortunately it is still far from problem free, however, I recommend that version over the hardback). My star rating for the book is an average of my view of it's importance (5), and its quality as literature (3). Mr Young was born just one month after Mr. Armstrong. In view of the latter's recent demise, I'm just glad that we got this book at all.

Traditionally large numbers of people have managed to get stirred up about various problems, for example nuclear weapons and global warming. However, they've all missed the big picture so I'll leave you with a final thought from the author who, until now has "been everywhere, done everything and said very little":

"Single planet species don't last."
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on October 21, 2012
I've been greatly looking forward to this book. John Young has had an amazing career in Nasa and having read all the astronaut autobiographies from the era I was looking forward to hearing his views on a great many things. Unfortunately the book is a great disappointment.

My problems with the book are not the errors which have been specifically covered in other reviews. The problem is it's not really an autobiography. The book is more of a technical retrospective on the missions Young was on. Young's life as an astronaut, his training and relationships with his fellow astronauts is secondary at best. For example his first mission was the first Gemini mission with Mercury veteran Gus Grissom. I really wanted to hear from Young about Gus. How they got along and worked together. How and why Young got assigned as the first of his astronaut class to such an important mission. Unfortunately we hear none of that. What we get is a technical diatribe about his mission. This Young does over and over in terms of every one of his missions. They are described coldly with little insight into the men he works with.

It would be one thing if this book was suppose to cover the technical aspects of Gemini or Apollo but it's suppose to be an autobiography. We're reading the book because we want to know about John Young and his experiences from a personal perspective. The technical points of these missions are covered in other books and generally done much better than they are here. As it is Young's descriptions of the missions are impersonal at best. Many times he will use acronyms or abbreviations without explaining what they mean. For example he might make reference to the LPN without telling the reader that LPN stands for lunar portable magnetometer. If you didn't know that already you'd not be sure what he's talking about.

The book finally goes off the deep end in the last chapters where Young goes on a very long technical diatribe about the Space Shuttle. Again it would be fascinating to hear his views on this era but instead mostly we get technical descriptions about how the shuttle works which again is covered better in other books.

In the end I found this to be an extremely disappointing book. Many books by astronauts such as Mike Collins, Gene Cernan and Deke Slayton are fascinating reads that are not only entertaining but important references on the era. Unfortunately Young's is of little value as it adds nothing from a personal perspective nor does it work as a technical book on Gemini, Apollo or the Space Shuttle which 80% of the book tries to be.
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on November 19, 2012
I worked on John Young's Gemini 10 spacecraft and on his Apollo 10 and 16 launches. I was therefore really looking forward to this book, but I was disappointed.

As has been mentioned, there are far too many technical errors, most of which should have been caught by a minimally qualified proofreader. I can guarantee that if you landed on the moon, you would remember that the LM had 4 legs, not 3, and that you extracted the LM after TLI, not before, and that you decelerate into lunar orbit, not accelerate. And Young would remember he flew on Apollo 16, not 15. It seems obvious that John Young did not read the final manuscript, as I'm sure he would not have let these glaring errors remain in the book.

Young is known for his dry wit, but there were few examples of this. Much of the book is a regurgitation of tedious details that are of little interest.
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on September 14, 2012
I found John Young's autobiography to have delightful parts, as a longtime fan. His childhood memories - he grew up in the Depression-era South, and experienced some rocky times - were fascinating. The reminiscences about his time as a fighter pilot and a test pilot are pretty amazing; he can't hide his own joy at some of his experiences, which is pretty neat (John isn't the most emotional guy in the world, so it's fun to see him just cut loose). His memories about Gus Grissom, his Gemini 3 partner, are simply wonderful. It's nice to learn a bit more about Grissom, who truly deserves a huge role in the spaceflight canon and isn't talked about as much as he should be. The text has a lot of the trademark laconic John Young humor us fans have come to expect from him; he is the king of the humorous understatement.

Yes, there are some errors in the book. The man is well into his 80s and memory can be fallible. But they don't take away from the best parts of the book, where the reader can sense Young's obvious, childlike enthusiasm for engineering and spaceflight. Those parts are great. As for the photos, there are some photos of him in U.S. Navy mode in the 1950s, which I've never seen before - and I've been following this guy's career since I was a kid.

This book is essential for all of those who have been fascinated with John Young during his long career and those who are spaceflight buffs, despite its lack of perfection. Recommended reading.
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on October 6, 2012
Like all other Apollo fans and space buffs I had waited eagerly to read this book. It does have to be read given John Young's incredible space career and involvement with Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle. There is some evidence of Young's debates with NASA management on safety issues (though more detail would of course have been welcome). However, the errors (starting with saying Young flew Apollo 15 in the foreword by Michael Collins!!) are both irritating and surprising. Another weird one (of many) is saying that on Apollo 16 they ejected the sub-satellite from the LM after LM jettison but of course the satellite was ejected from the SM, not the LM. Even when the facts are correct the writing style often leads to confusion. Did James Hansen even read it, let alone contribute to the writing? Was it even proof read or edited? It is hard to believe it had any editing.

My four star rating is because it is John Young and it has to be read. If it was any other book it would be a one or two star because of the errors. My respect for all astronauts, but especially the Apollo era astronauts will never be diminished and the more you learn about Apollo (and you can spend a lifetime learning about it as I have), the more impressive the achievement seems. To step so far over the edge and actually land on the moon in the late 1960s, early 1970s was mankind's greatest achievement and the astronauts, the engineers, the programme managers and every one of the 400,000 people who worked on the programme should be looked up to for ever. The quality of this book, however, does not live up the achievement of Apollo or properly reflect on John Young's amazing career.

If the publisher (or John Young) is reading this, I will happily volunteer to edit the 2nd edition. Being paid Hansen's fee (I assume he must have got one) would be great but I would do it for nothing just to improve this book to make it a better tribute to John and the space programme!
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on September 26, 2012
This should be a great book. Penned by Neil Armstrong biographer James Hansen, you would expect top quality.

Ouch! In the foreword by Mike Collins, Young is credited with flying the Apollo 15 mission. He flew Apollo 16.

When one sees an error of this magnitude in the foreword, one wonders about the others facts. And space fans would like their facts straight.

There are other errors of this type elsewhere. When seen in the foreword, it is a bit disturbing. Whoever proofread this, I'll take your job.

John Young was perhaps the greatest astronaut to ever live. He deserves better than these careless mistakes in an otherwise great read.

As others have mentioned, it is written in John's voice, you can here his quiet matter-of-fact I-will-no-longer-censor-myself tone.

FYI if you did not know John Young flew Gemini twice, Apollo twice, walked on the Moon on Apollo 16, and flew the first Space Shuttle mission, which many consider the riskiest flight ever taken by NASA. Only three humans have been to the moon twice. Young is one of them.
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on September 23, 2012
As possibly the last of the legendary Apollo-era astronauts to write his account of the space program, this is a book that is a must-read for space enthusiasts.

As others have mentioned, there are some very significant errors (eg references to Young flying Apollo 15) which make it impossible to give this book five stars. However, the depth of information relating to Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle program is invaluable for those with an interest in NASA. This isn't a book that focuses solely on Young's moon-walk and brushes over the rest of his career, there is plenty of time devoted to the other aspects of his life.

After reading Mike Mullane's "Riding Rockets" I must admit to being unsure what to expect from Young (Mullane was fairly critical of Young as a manager), however his passion and enthusiasm for spaceflight is clear.

Given the current state of NASA's manned spaceflight program it is unlikely anyone will have a career to rival Young's (at least in the foreseeable future), so this book is a great record of one of the longest serving astronauts.

Recommended, despite the mistakes.
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Few recent spaceflight books have generated more interest than this long-overdue biography of John W. Young, the "astronauts' astronaut." Mr. Young holds a distinction unlikely to be matched in the lifetimes of anyone now alive. He flew into space six times on three separate NASA manned spaceflight programs--twice on Gemini, twice to the moon on Apollo and twice on the Space Shuttle. As the late Gus Grissom's crewmate on the first manned Gemini flight, as one of just 12 men to walk on the surface of the moon and as the commander of the first manned Space Shuttle mission, the breadth and depth of Mr. Young's spaceflight experience remain unequalled by any other American astronauts. We've seen glimpses of his uniquely laconic, plain-spoken style and his dry wit in other spaceflight books, but "Forever Young" is the first biography focused on the man himself. Was it worth the wait?

Well, my answer is a qualified "Yes." It's "yes" because "Forever Young" does document a lengthy, remarkable spaceflight career in detail and in a fast-paced, highly readable style that most readers should find very accessible. It's "qualified" because the book contains some major and minor errors that should not be in there. Technical errors in spaceflight books drive me crazy, and unfortunately this book is not free of them. In fact, I almost gave it up on page 2, when it mentions "three" landing legs deploying on the LM in lunar orbit. Surely everyone knows the LM had four legs.

However...I checked the official NASA mission transcript, and, sure enough, the astronauts at the time were talking about "three" legs, not four. So the conversation related on page 2 seems to be historically accurate. I suspect some of the other errors, such as the use of "acceleration" versus "deceleration," are similar--accurate, yes, but conveying the wrong impression. I also suspect some errors were simply cases of faulty memory or notes, perhaps combined with a deadline that forced Mr. Hansen to turn in the manuscript before he completed a final fact-checking and editing pass, as he said in comments to some of the reviews here. With that said, I think it's fair to cut Mr. Young and Mr. Hansen a lot of slack. I'm sure both of them know where the errors are, and will correct them in future editions. In any event, the errors in "Forever Young" are trivial in number and severity compared to those in spaceflight books by authors who have no clue whatsoever about the subject, such as Harry Hurt in "For All Mankind" and Craig Nelson in "Rocket Men."

So, having said all that, what did I think about "Forever Young?" Well, it's a little dry and very technical. As such, it seems to speak with the authentic voice of Mr. Young, and will probably appeal more to techno-geeks than to casual readers. As one of the former, I found it to be an interesting and valuable memoir, errors aside. Readers looking for deep and meaningful insights into the "feelings" of Mr. Young are doomed to disappointment, but that's typical of astronaut memoirs, with a few exceptions. I read every spaceflight history book I can get my hands on, and "Forever Young" is as good as most of them, but not the best. I'd put it in the top third, though. I think it is a valuable contribution to the literature of spaceflight, but it really must be considered a "work in progress." I can't in good conscience rate it with five stars, which it might otherwise warrant, because of the errors it contains. However, I have high hopes that the authors will finish the task they have set themselves and correct the errors. When that happens, "Forever Young" will rank as a classic astronaut biography.
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on December 8, 2012
A must-have reference for any manned spaceflight enthusiast. An enthusiast will probably be able to cope with the errors - less knowledgable readers wouldn't see them and would take the book at face value.

John Young is a genuine American legend, Gemini pioneer, 2-time lunar voyager, pioneering shuttle commander and manager, and meticulous engineer. The errors already spotted by earlier reviewers are troubling, and I'll add my own: hardcover edition page 341, lines 4 and 5 - that the shuttle Columbia docked with the ISS on its last fatal mission in early 2003. Or, hardback page 92 last line (when mentioning the 15 second Agena burn in Gemini 10) ' less than 15 seconds we shot up to 475 miles - a new world altitude record' which - as written - is totally misleading. Mike Collins very eloquently described that same event at pages 211 to 214 of his own autobiography 'Carrying the Fire' describing how the burn of slightly more than 14 seconds resulted in an apogee of 475 miles a half-orbit later.

John Young is an entertaining, economical and highly laconic speaker with a tendency to throw in "one liners" and ironic quips. In other words, his remarks are best understood (or, perhaps "interpreted") by listeners or readers who are already knowledgeable about the events being talked about. That is what the distinguished co-author James R Hansen should have been doing. Perhaps Mr Hansen deliberately chose not to modify John Young's description of the Agena burn because that's probably how Mr Young said it. Nevertheless Mr Hansen should have been able to interpret that remark in its proper context and to adjust the text.

The January 2003 Columbia-ISS docking comment is much more baffling (as is the perplexing no landing-gear remark about LM4 in Apollo 10 on page 126 line 2). Those errors would have been picked up by an amateur space-enthusiast proof-reader, and their presence in the book as published casts a serious question mark over the literary integrity of the entire work.

Some readers of this review might consider the errors I've noted as nit-picking. My view is that because this book is a first-hand account of important pioneering events in manned spaceflight, it will become a primary research resource in decades and centuries to come. It's extremely important - in my opinion - to get it right now before these pioneers pass into history.

However, despite the series of errors, Mr Young's personal perspectives on Gemini, Apollo, the Shuttle, on the NASA culture, on the increasing orbital debris problem, and on Near Earth Object (NEO) detection, are truly fascinating. Perhaps a 2nd edition with the baffling factual errors eliminated is needed to truly elevate this book to its proper and deserved place in manned spaceflight history.
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on March 23, 2014
I have nothing but respect for John Young. He has been a hero of mine since childhood. However, this book is so full of errors that it's virtually unreadable. I'm a bit of a space freak, so the errors jumped off the page at me. But I feel bad for anybody who reads it without realizing that virtually every page has a significant technical or historical error. I could forgive this if the book wasn't trying so hard to be precise. For example, an engine burn was described as having a duration of 331 seconds. That sort of precision (as opposed to saying five and a half minutes) implies that the book is technically accurate and factual.

The error that I found most galling (so much so that I stopped reading and wrote this review) was when it was stated that on its fatal mission, Columbia docked with the International Space Station (ISS). This never happened, Columbia's orbit was incompatible with ISS rendezvous. Since Mr. Young's passion was crew safety, I am sure he knew better. This is sloppy transcription and editing, and the result of Mr. Young collaborating with people who lack the necessary technical background. This book was published two years ago, so there is no excuse for the errors being present in the Kindle edition I purchased in 2014.
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