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The Right Stuff Paperback – October 30, 2001
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Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."
Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne. Chuck Yeager was certainly among the fastest, and his determination to push through Mach 1--a feat that some had predicted would cause the destruction of any aircraft--makes him the book's guiding spirit.
Yet soon the focus shifts to the seven initial astronauts. Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death ... magnificent.”
“It is Tom Wolfe at his very best ... technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic — The Right Stuff is superb.”
— The New York Times Book Review
“Breathtaking ... epic ... There are images and ideas in The Right Stuff that glisten like a rocket screaming to the heavens.”
— Los Angeles Times
“Romantic and thrilling ... One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.”
— The Boston Globe
“It’s magic ... the best book I have read in the last ten years.”
— Chicago Tribune
Also by Tom Wolfe:
The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
From Bauhaus to Our House
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
The Painted Word
The Right Stuff
Mauve Gloves & Madmen
Clutter & Vine
In Our Time
The Pumphouse Gang
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers
Available wherever Bantam Books are sold
Top customer reviews
Sadly now as you read this great novel, you think to the disaster of a movie. So altered and so miscast. And reading about the making of the movie, the same fictional pressures of politically correctness in the book hampered the actual movie. For example Morgan Freeman's a great actor but his character is totally different than the book. This is a movie that SHOULD BE RE-MADE.
In any event The Bonefire of the Vanities is a MUST read.
This book epitomizes the bright and dark side of Wolfe's school of writing, too. Above all, Wolfe can be as riveting and as entertaining as you'll find -- "truth can be funnier than fiction." I have heard how Wolfe caught the essence of what someone wanted to say even better than the one who said it, and he sure puts you into the thick of the action. The author gives a legitimate and interesting perspective. Nevertheless, this style plays heavily on your emotions, with all the problems that can involve, and the book is not terribly objective -- a purely entertaining incident can assume more importance than it should. Since Wolfe's storytelling style can blur the distinction between fact and conjecture, it "stretches the envelope" of truthtelling, so if another storyteller doesn't have basic integrity (and many authors and journalists regrettably do not), this style of writing can mislead or deceive. Character development and depth are questionable; those who have "the right stuff" in the face of danger are portrayed as almost superhuman, and those who don't are made into buffoons (no matter how significant their contributions to the mission). This "tyranny of the cool" can get a bit annoying after a while.
In short, I think Wolfe's book gives a grand idea of the spirit of the times, and of life's entertainment value, but it is rightly considered a novel rather than history. I easily gave it five stars because it is SUCH an inspirational and delightful read, but I would approach it with a bit of light-hearted skepticism.