The Right Stuff Paperback – March 4, 2008
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“Technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic . . . The Right Stuff is superb.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.” ―The Boston Globe
“An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty, and fiery death . . . Magnificent.” ―People
“Absolutely first class . . . Improbable as some of Wolfe's tales seem, I know he's telling it like it was.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“Crammed with inside poop and racy incident . . . fast cars, booze, astro groupies, the envies and injuries of the military caste system . . . Wolfe lays it all out in brilliantly staged Op Lit scenes.” ―Time
“Splendid . . . It shows our propensity to manufacture heroes, and, just as quickly, to forget them; it shows how a scientific program was exploited for political advantage; it provides a revealing character study of seven exceptional Americans.” ―The Saturday Review
From the Back Cover
The men had it. Yeager. Conrad. Grissom. Glenn. Heroes ... the first Americans in space ... battling the Russians for control of the heavens ... putting their lives on the line.
The women had it. While Mr. Wonderful was aloft, it tore your heart out that the Hero's Wife, down on the ground, had to perform with the whole world watching ... the TV Press Conference: "What's in your heart? Do you feel with him while he's in orbit?"
The Right Stuff. It's the quality beyond bravery, beyond courage. It's men like Chuck Yeager, the greatest test pilot of all and the fastest man on earth. Pete Conrad, who almost laughed himself out of the running. Gus Grissom, who almost lost it when his capsule sank. John Glenn, the only space traveler whose apple-pie image wasn't a lie.
- Lexile measure : 1110L
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312427565
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312427566
- Dimensions : 5.57 x 1 x 8.26 inches
- Publisher : Picador; Second Edition, Revised (March 4, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I rented the Right Stuff as a movie and was not impressed. I was disgusted by its treatment of Gus Grissom, which I attributed to Hollywood and its grandiose arrogance. History is just an starting point for fiction, truths, half truths, and lies, for the sake of entertainment. People are misinformed about historical events in the first place then comes Hollywood and turns it into distorted semi-fictional entertainment. So, I read the book, figuring it must be better. It was actually much worse. I will give Wolfe credit for opening my eyes on the stupendous casualty rates of military pilots and test pilots. Anything that is not a clear fact in this book however, is just as likely an invention of the creative mind of Wolfe. Did he actually know what the test monkeys were thinking? Well no. DId he actually know what the astronauts were thinking? He would have had a better chance at that one, but I was very doubtful of much of his description of their thoughts until I got to the chapter on Grissom's flight, after which I would no more believe something that Wolfe says than I would believe something that trump says. He is simply flapping his gums for profit. Anyone who believes anything he says that cannot be fact checked is being gullible.
I realized that Wolfe is like Howard Zinn. They both set out to destroy the sanitized highly patriotic versions of history and wound up replacing one set of overly kind propaganda with a different set of bitterly caustic propaganda. Bleh. I would not swallow very much of the viewpoints of either although there are grains of truth in their works. The problem of dealing with liars is that one has no idea when they might be telling the truth.
As to Wolfe's style, it is incredibly repetitive and most of the book comes down to one or two ideas, which may or may not have much truth to them; these are pounded into the ground.
Not knowing much about Wolfe I looked him up and I must say I wildly enjoyed the critics of his style. From Wiki:
"... In 2000, Wolfe was criticised by Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, after they were asked if they believed that his books were deserving of their critical acclaim. Mailer compared reading a Wolfe novel to having sex with a 300 lb woman, saying 'Once she gets to the top it's all over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated.' Updike was more literary in his reservedness: he claimed that one of his books 'amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.' Irving was perhaps the most dismissive, saying 'It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine ... read sentences and watch yourself gag.' ..."
For what Wolfe did to the truth about Gus Grissom's flight, and the harm he caused to his reputation and family, I would be tempted to find Wolfe's grave and piss on it, it would be fitting. It also would be more effort than the man deserves. I wish Grissom's estate and family had sued Wolfe. His pathograpy of Grissom based on obvious mistruths, when the actual facts and details are not hard to find about the flight, is very, very low and small. Grissom himself was not around around to defend himself, but I am glad he did not have to read this garbage.
I was already skimming through most of the book, its a book more about Tom Wolfe than a book about real events, after the Grissom chapter I very briefly skimmed the rest of the book, since I had established that the author was not honest. (I guess that I myself am pounding my reaction a bit into the ground.) The Right Stuff has gone into my woodstove and is now, at last, providing some heat, if not much light.
Tom Wolfe was a practitioner of “New Journalism.” The only previous experience that I had with that style was with Hunter S. Thompson’s alcohol-and-other-drugs-fueled escapades in Las Vegas while covering a race for Sports Illustrated and his alcohol-fueled experiences at the Kentucky Derby. Based on those reading experiences, it was my understanding that one of the hallmarks of New Journalism was Journalist-as-Participant. The historical record, however, is pretty clear that a drunk Tom Wolfe had not, in fact, been blasted into orbit with John Glenn or any of the other Mercury 7 astronauts. How then is The Right Stuff an example New Journalism?
Well, Tom Wolfe wrote his butt off. The book reads more “literary” than as an object of traditional journalism. Let me explain…no, there is too much…let me sum up…A traditional journalistic or scholarly book about the early astronauts and “what made them tick” might include quotations from interviews with those astronauts and people that knew them, government officials and news reporters from the time, and maybe a few academics to provide some Authoritative Interpretation. The writer wouldn’t put forth a theory of their own about the astronaut motivations, or, if they did, there’d be a ton of explicit sources backing them up.
Tom Wolfe just puts his theories out there, front and center, and then writes with such force – with repeated interjections, sometimes with exclamations! – and capitalizations and callbacks and pretty descriptions and literary techniques that the reader will forget that they are reading some nonfiction book; this story may be (at least in some sense) true, but it reads like a novel. It never really dives into the minutiae of bureaucratic organization nor is it really interested in any one’s point of view other than that which drives the author’s central point: the astronauts were military test pilots fueled by a Manly Competitive Desire to BE THE BEST and that performing well under pressure in that competition exhibits The Right Stuff (which is never explicitly defined, although I have my own theories).
I am a fan of David Foster Wallace’s writing, and I could see a clear influence from Tom Wolfe’s style in Wallace’s writing. And David Foster Wallace was certainly not the only literary writer influenced by Wolfe. Fans of literature really should check this out, just to trace back certain styles to their creator (or popularizer). Science fiction fans could be inspired by a (more or less) true account of fighter pilot personality and how their influence (or lack thereof) could impact a fictional space program. Fans of nonfiction could see that there are ways of telling a nonfiction story rather than the usual, traditional methodologies. I’d recommend this book to anyone, just with the disclaimer that it is NOT like the usual biographical or documentary-style rendition of the Mercury Project. The writer’s style is definitely noticeable, and some might be distracted by it (or it could just not be to their taste).
This was the story of that time.
Top reviews from other countries
This kindle edition is my 3rd I’ve bought as I’ve read and re-read the first two in paperback so often they’ve eventually fallen apart. Ths edition has a foreword by astronaut Scott Kelly.
This is the book that started my obsession with collecting books on the history of space exploration. I’m now eagerly awaiting the audio version...
The narrative draws from a number of definitive sources that [for me] places the reader as a ‘fly on the wall’ with the families and the elite individuals, testing, pushing and articulating aviation’s next steps and space capabilities.
The story pursues and tackles the challenges of supersonic flight and escaping the earth’a atmosphere. Incredible.
I was very disappointed. Yes, there was some "stuff" about astronauts but a great deal about their wives: I found that utterly tedious and to a large extent irrelevant. The ticker-tape (and similar) events were described ad nauseam. Yawn.
My criterion for giving a book the thumbs up - and I get many books on Kindle - is will I read it again? I have to say that "The Right Stuff" is already in the Kindle "bin" and won't see daylight again.