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Superficial and disappointing
on March 16, 2000
First, so you know, I'm a lifelong fan of the space program. I was five years old when Apollo 11 landed, and, like many of that age, caught a feverish interest in space travel and the people who actually did what I dreamed of doing.
I'm not saying that to claim a special expertise on the topic, but to confess that I'm far from impartial when reviewing a book like this. The fact is, I'd probably find Frank Borman's grocery list or John Young's dog's veterinary records intensely fascinating.
More's the pity, since I can't say the same for Moon Shot. Other reviewers have noted that the authors seem to have been unable to make up their minds whether they were writing a history of the space program, or a joint autobiography. Because of this, it fails at both. The coverage of the space program is haphazard, focusing on the authors' accomplishments while ignoring many other significant people and events. As a biography, Moon Shot leaves much to be desired, giving little information on Shepard's or Slayton's backgrounds, reasons for becoming astronauts, etc. If you're looking for an astronaut autobiography and a detailed account of part of Project Apollo, Jim Lovell's book, Lost Moon, does a much better job of putting both in one package.
Moon Shot does not go in depth into what it does cover. Instead, the major parts of each event are duly recited, and the narrative goes no further. Worse, the book breaks no new ground, either. When I bought Moon Shot, I expected that, since I would be reading recollections of people who directly participated in Project Apollo, I would be treated to unusual viewpoints and to information not readily available elsewhere. But, at no time while reading the book was I surprised. There was nothing in Moon Shot which made me say to myself, "Wow, I didn't know that."
Moon Shot suffers from having been published at about the same time as Andrew Chaikin's masterpiece, A Man On The Moon. At first glance, Moon Shot looks weak and inept by comparison to Chaikin's thorough historical account. This is unfortunate and unfair. While it may not be clear what the authors intended Moon Shot to be, it seems obvious that Shepard and Slayton never planned to write something on the scale of A Man On The Moon.
But, even if one accepts Moon Shot for what it is - light coverage of selected parts of the authors' experiences in the space program - the book still falls short. In the world of Moon Shot, there are no serious rivalries, no harsh animosities among the astronauts, and everyone happily performs above and beyond the call of duty every day. Shepard's well-known hostile managerial style as head of the astronaut office is represented here as little more than occasional grumpiness. John Glenn's behind-the-scenes efforts to knock Shepard out of the first manned Mercury flight after the selection had been made are barely mentioned.
Don't get me wrong - I have no desire to bash legends. But neither do I want to read saccharine and be told it is history. And the fact is, Moon Shot often reads more like a NASA press release than like a well-balanced account of the facts.
In summary, the only positive thing I can say about Moon Shot is that it has two heroes' names on the cover. Sadly, both men passed away soon after Moon Shot was published. Too bad they didn't write a better, well deserved epitath for themselves.