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Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 25, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers what is likely to be the definitive biography of Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), the man behind both Nazi Germany's V-1 and V-2 rockets and America's postwar rocket program. Spearheading America's first satellite launch in 1958, which brought the U.S. up to par with the Soviet Union in space, von Braun was celebrated on the covers of Time and Life. Neufeld has a deep understanding of the technical and human challenges von Braun faced in leading the U.S. space program and lucidly explains his role in navigating the personal and public politics, management challenges and engineering problems that had to be solved before landing men on the moon. Neufield doesn't discount von Braun's past as an SS member and Nazi scientist (which was downplayed by NASA), but concludes nonjudgmentally that von Braun's lifelong obsession with becoming the Columbus of space, not Nazi sympathies, led him to his Faustian bargain to accept resources to build rockets regardless of their source or purpose. A wide range of readers (not only science and space buffs) will find this illuminating and rewarding. 16 pages of photos. (Sept. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A historian of German rocket technology (The Rocket and the Reich, 1994), Neufeld enters the populated field of von Braun biographies with, it is safe to say, the most comprehensively researched one. Only von Braun's relatives, it seems, have denied their stories to the author, whose documentary synthesis covers the qualities that vaulted von Braun into technological leadership. Neufeld argues that von Braun's true distinction lay in organizational management. He could spot talent, motivate it with charisma, and persuade national leaders to fund his futuristic visions. That these leaders were initially those of Nazi Germany is the fulcrum of von Braun's life: Neufeld's account and assessment of von Braun's enmeshment in the Nazi system illustrates a progression arriving at party and SS membership, and involvement with forced labor. Letting readers mull the war-criminal question, Neufeld proceeds to the von Braun team's capture and transportation to the U.S. in 1945, von Braun's Christian conversion experience, and his fame in the 1950s and beyond as a space-flight proselytizer. Cautious in tone, Neufeld's judicious portrait of von Braun's outstanding qualities and his moral compromises promises to become a space-history mainstay. Taylor, Gilbert

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307262928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262929
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #754,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The career of Wernher von Braun has been a subject of investigation, and not a little controversy, almost from the time that the German rocketeer came to the United States after World War II. There is no question in my mind that "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War" will be recognized as a seminal addition to the literature of space history and biography. In this book Michael J. Neufeld, the chair of the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum and a longtime friend and colleague of mine (so I confess that I am not totally unbiased in my assessment), traces the career of one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration during the period between the 1930s and the 1970s. He went on to a stellar career (pun intended) in rocketry and spaceflight. Neufeld argues that von Braun should be remembered for four major accomplishments:
(1) Developing the world's first ballistic missile, the V-2, for Germany during World War II.
(2) Popularizing space exploration in the U.S. in the 1950s through a succession of articles, speeches, public appearances, and television broadcasts. The most important of these were the famed "Collier's" series of articles and the three Disney TV programs.
(3) Launching the first U.S. satellite to orbit the Earth, Explorer 1, in January 1958, a significant rejoinder to the Sputnik launches of the fall of 1957.
(4) Leading the technical development of the largest successful rocket ever built, the Saturn V launcher that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first learn about this book I thought to myself:"What else can be written about Von Braun that I don't know"? After reading everything that was published during the years on the topic, it must be an immense undertaking, to create yet another Von Braun book, but, as I got the book, I saw immediately that this is by no means "another Von Braun book".

There are many revelations, new stories and new interpretations on the deeds of Von Braun, especially in his NASA career. The amount of work and details is just stager ring, and the result is breathtaking. You can almost feel that you are in the meeting rooms at Marshal space flight center at the height of discussions on various Apollo and Saturn alternatives.

This book is with no doubt the best book ever to be published on the life and work of Wherner Von Braun, and will serve the space historians community as the definitive source for years to come.

The author does not make Von Braun any discounts, and when he has criticism on him or on his decisions at NASA (and of course on the WW2 period) we get to see a balanced account of the events.

A must have book and important addition to the history of spaceflight, on this jubilee year of the Sputnik launch.

Tal Inbar
Space Research Center
Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies
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Format: Hardcover
A mob followed Dr. Wernher von Braun into the armored test chamber of the M. I. T. Rocket Research Society some time in 1962. We shook hands, and he picked up a static test rocket motor we had made for liquid propellants with an innovative plug nozzle. He said, having missed the words "static test": "You got to get some of ze meat off here, here and here!", pointing. He was one of those rare people with an aura that just radiated -- highly charismatic in manner. Then I understood how engineers and others could work for him in the foul conditions at Peenemünde that prevailed after the bombing of 17 Aug 43 (p153). And at Nordhausen.

Anyhow, the RRS visit was followed by a talk on Saturn booster development in M. I. T.'s Kresge Auditorium, which would have impressed any U. S. congresspeople who saw it. But neither author Neufeld nor I have any illusions about the V-2 program. As was quoted several times from Mort Sahl imitating von Braun: "Ve shoot for ze moon, but zometimes ve hit London." So Neufeld does not indulge in hero worship.

Neufeld's exhaustive research, backed up by 120 pages of notes, uses letters sent by von Braun, other letters, interviews with relatives, and any other imaginable sources, has helped produce what must be the definitive biography of von Braun. Good index. Two groups of black & white photos are provided. And it is a biography, contrary to another Amazon reviewer, who called this book a history of rocketry, which it certainly is not. The author stated he was able to read German, which surely helped.

So von Braun's ancestors, schooling, early work in the German Society for Space Travel, movement to work for the Wehrmacht before Hitler was in power, and remaining afterwards is all there.
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Format: Hardcover
This is likely to be the authoritative book on the life of Wernher von Braun. Neufeld has clearly done his homework. At the same time, some readers might be disappointed at the scope of the book, and his handling of von Braun's Nazi past is certain to be controversial.

The book is certainly true to its title. This is the story of of Wernher von Braun, and Neufeld stays tightly focused on his subject. Wernher von Braun led a fascinating life. Born to aristocracy, he dreamed of going to space from an early age, and became an early pioneer of the rocket industry. During World War II he became head of one of Germany's most sophisticated weapons programs, eventually developing the V-2 rocket. At the end of World War II, von Braun and other German scientist were brought to the United States, where he became head of one of the United States' first space programs. Eventually he would play a leading role in launching the first US satellite, and in the Apollo lunar missions. Throughout, von Braun is a larger than life personality: appearing on TV and in movies; writing popular fiction and magazine articles; meeting with heads of state and celebrities; jetting to exotic locations; flying, big game hunting, and scuba diving.

The relentless focus on von Braun might be too much for some readers, and at times the book seems to be an endless parade of dates and facts. While well written, and easy to follow, it is inevitably tedious. While we are treated to a detailed account of von Braun's family tree there is little on the history of rocketry before von Braun. Even though von Braun's life was largely shaped by World War II and the Cold War, there is little background on these events.
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