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The Right Stuff Updated May 15, 2018: RIP, Tom Wolfe reading this book was such an eyeopener You were a true original I'll never forget the pure pleasure I had reading this book, as well as the great satire that was, that is, Bonfire Of The Vanities.***Yeehawwww!!! Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about the American space race is a highoctane nonfiction masterpiece.Wolfe's maximalist style – full of exclamation marks!!! ellipses and repeated italicized phrases that take on the rhythm of great jazz – is perfectly suited to his gargantuan, egodriven, patriotic, rahrah subject matter He has a voice like no one else's, and although he obviously did tons of research, he imparts his facts clearly and gets inside the heads of the scientists, astronauts and their wives like a great novelist.His narrator is part anthropologist, part satirist, part historian, and nothing escapes his eye Even if you've seen the terrific Philip Kaufman film, I highly recommend reading this ridiculously entertaining and informative book that tells you a lot about the space program, the Cold War, the rise of mass media, gender roles and even (near the end) the race issue.And just for fun, try reading some passages aloud It's – excuse the pun – a blast. When the future beganThe men had it Yeager Conrad Grissom Glenn Heroesthe first Americans in spacebattling the Russians for control of the heavensputting their lives on the lineThe 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 watchingthe 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 applepie image wasn't a lie Treasure of the Rubbermaids 24: Rocket MenThe ongoing discoveries of priceless books and comics found in a stack of Rubbermaid containers previously stored and forgotten at my parent’s house and untouched for almost 20 years Thanks to my father dumping them back on me, I now spend my spare time unearthing lost treasures from their plastic depths.If you, a 21st century person, ever sees one of the old Mercury space capsules in a museum you’ll probably be amazed at how small and primitive it seems (Whatever device you’re reading this on right now hascomputing power than all of NASA had at the time.) It lookslike a toy, something that a kid might have in his backyard to play rocket ship, rather than a vehicle that actually took a man into space Your next thought might be, “What kind of fool would have volunteered to strap himself into that on top of a giant cylinder filled with highly combustible fuel and ride it out of the atmosphere?” To understand that you can read The Right Stuff.This isn’t some dry account of the early days of America’s space program filled with dates and scientific facts In fact, if that’s the kind of history you’re looking for then you’d probably find this disappointing What Tom Wolfe did here is try to convey the mindset of an America panicked by suddenly finding itself behind the Soviet Union in the space race, and how in its desperation it turned seven pilots chosen to be the first astronauts into national heroes Those men would find themselves in a media spotlight where the image they presented was oftenimportant than their actual skills in the cockpit Wolfe starts by explaining what the ‘right stuff’ is by taking us back to late ‘40s when a hotshot test pilot named Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier The fact that Yeager did this with broken ribs and used a length of sawedoff broom handle as a lever to close the hatch on his X1 rocket plane because he was in too much pain to lean over made it that muchimpressive What adds to his legend is that he got the injury in a drunken horse riding accident the night before and hid it from his superiors for fear they’d replace him on the flight That’s the kind of thing that shows that Yeager had the right stuff practically dripping out of his pores and put him at the top of the test pilot pyramid.Yet when the Soviets launched Sputnik and America scrambled to catch up Yeager wasn’t seriously considered as an astronaut candidate, and to many of the other test pilots who were setting speed records and pushing the boundary of space anyhow in their rocket propelled aircraft it was only a matter of time until they'd be flying into space anyhow To them the Mercury program was a publicity stunt in which the astronauts would only be sealed in a can and shot into space without really flying the ship at all Hell, it was so easy that a monkey could do it, and a couple actually did.Yet after the media declared the Mercury 7 as the best and bravest that America had to offer everyone started forgetting about the test pilots and put all the resources and attention on the astronauts The seven men themselves would start pushing back for changes that gave themcontrol of their spacecraft, and while they may have started out as a littlethan guinea pigs they used their popularity to getpower and control within the fledgling NASA This led to the egghead scientists taking a backseat while amilitary mindset of operational performance became the yardstick that determined a mission’s success More importantly to them, it would show the world that they really did have the right stuff.This is all writtenas a novel than a history For example, rather than tell us what was happening on the ground during flights Wolfe sticks to what was going through the astronaut’s head at the time so that something like John Glenn finding out that his heat shield may have been loose comes to us as a realization that he had rather than giving us the full picture of what was going on It also delves into the personal lives of the astronauts where they and their wives would try to present an AllAmerican image even as some of the men were taking full advantage of the new celebrity they had attained.It’s also frequently very funny There’s a great sequence near the beginning about how if you find yourself on an airline flight with a problem and the captain on the intercom explains how there is nothing to worry about in a calm southern drawl it’s a direct result of generations of pilots imitating Chuck Yeager’s accent over the radio to mimic his understated sense of calm.As a space geek and historical stickler I do find it lacking at a couple of points Wolfe doesn’t give you any details about what happened to these men later so that you wouldn’t know something like Alan Shepherd would eventually be one of the men who walks on the moon after being grounded with an inner ear problem after his first flight I also think he also does a disservice to Gus Grissom whose mission nearly ended in disaster after splashdown when his capsule door unexpectedly blew open Grissom nearly drowned at the capsule was lost at sea (It was recovered almost 40 years later It has been restored and can be seen at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS.) Wolfe uses Grissom’s heart rate which was higher than any other astronauts during their mission to strongly hint that he was in a state of near panic during his flight, and that he probably did blow the hatch despite his claims that he had done nothing wrong In other words Grissom didn’t really have the right stuff after all according to Wolfe It’s still unclear as to why the hatch did blow, but even back then on a subsequent mission Wally Schirra had deliberately blown his own hatch as a test and showed that the force required to do it left visible bruises on his hand while Grissom had no marks at all I’ve also read other accounts and seen various documentaries in which other astronauts and NASA officials adamantly claim that it must have been a technical failure, not anything that Grissom did wrong Wolfe omits all of this to leave a reader with a very strong impression that Grissom ‘screwed the pooch’ This seems especially unfair in that Grissom wasn’t alive to defend himself when the book came out since he had died in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire which also killed two other astronauts (It’s a bitter irony that they couldn’t get out because the hatch of that spacecraft was badly designed so that it couldn’t be opened when the fire occurred.)Despite some flaws, it’s still a fantastic read that really digs into the idea of how the macho code of these men was sometimes a crippling burden, it was also maybe exactly what was needed to get a bunch of guys to willingly climb into rockets I also highly recommend the movie adaptation although it’sof an emotional story than historically accurate. Good GRIEF, somebody please remind me about this the next time I think I will read a Tom Wolfe book I seem to read one about every 15 years and in between I forget what an unpleasant experience I find it I cannot! Take! The exclamation points! I'm one of those people who, constitutionally, cannot ignore an exclamation point on the printed page, so reading this was like being shouted at for great lengths of time As everyone in the free world already knows, this is Tom Wolfe's book about the Mercury Space program, focusing on the personalities of the test pilots and the social significance of beating the Russians into space, or you know, failing to do that I'm sure I've seen the movie countless times, mostly in parts on cable, but I had never read the book and that didn't seem right I'm not even sure it seems right now, either, but I will say that for a book that I found almost painful to read, I have absolutely no doubt it informs just about every image we have of the space race and NASA in popular culture So that part is impressive.Grade: I don't even know.Recommended: This is one of those books where I feel like I gained something in the end, but the process of getting there was almost unbearable. Back when I was a kid, I watched The Right Stuff And while that really dates me, it also sparked my fascination with the OTHER side of the science fiction coin You know, REALITY and the real men and women doing real science.And even if I'm not fanatical about learning science, I've never stopped learning and I don't want to Sure, I may be doing it only to give my own writing muchverve, but understanding reality has been an end in and of itself :)Of course, I can lay all that internal pressure at this book's feet Maybe not directly, because I'm only NOW just reading it, but I got the awe and the fascination for the Space Program from it.So what about the book, man?Oh! It's great! Exciting, with novelistic concessions, flaws, tension, dramatic release, and pure Right Stuff splattering all over the place What is the Right Stuff? It's Men, son It's Real Men So many of the aspects to the early test pilots made me want to cringe with all the drunk driving, drunk flying, womanizing, and all the doublespeak going on in American culture at the time I mean, the insistence that the public needs to be told and shown what to think was intense and to a modern eye, as pathetic and commonplace, if of a VERY different tone, as it is today Everyone tells everyone else what to think now, but it's fractured Back then, everyone was doing whatever they wanted under the surface and the whole collective banded together to put on a brave, otherworldly, face back then.Or at least, that's the impression And heck, that may not even be the most important part of this book The heroism is The cult of personality is The Space Program was in decline back when I watched this movie the first time and it sure as hell still is, now, and I'm given a very big impression that it only became a thing because of the personalities behind it Kennedy is King Arthur and his Knights, the astronauts The idealism and the space race and kicking the Soviets in the spacecan was larger than life and when these PEOPLE became too old or the initial fire dimmed, so did the Race to Space Of course, isn't it the same today? Cult of personality can bring it out and kill it It's not about science or even NEED It's not about doing all the real things we need to do as a species if we have a hope of surviving.It's about narrative Excitement And if even a tiny bit of that goes away, then the support of the public will kill it.LOL do I sound bitter? Leaving soapbox now. I've probably read over a thousand books I just earned my MA in History and am a writer who's headed to UC Berkeley in the fall and The Right Stuff, along with the Electric KoolAid Acid Test, are in my top 10 Exhilarating, uncanny, and unusual for Wolfe concise The man's range as a writer going from drugfueled hippie rebellion to deathdefying test pilots with unquestioned loyalty to the state remains virtually unprecedented I'm reexamining Wolfe's body of work as I finish my first book, The Case of the Cleantech Con Artist: A True Vegas Tale. Catchup Review 2 of 4:So this was a buddy read among the pantsless, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing Unfortunately, for me, it wasof a failure to launch than a successful mission (See what I did there?)I WANTED to like this I wanted to learn about the men who made this mission, the ones brave enough to leave the planet and try to land on the moon, the ones that clearly had cojones the size of beachballs (that's the right stuff spoiler alert) but I could not make it past the writing to get there This shit is DATED The writing is not good At all Chocked full to the brim with exclamation points and italicized emphasis, and reiterations and repetition and regurgitation and repeating the same thing again just maybe one or two dozentimes to make sure that you REALLY FUCKING GET IT and that's just the abysmal editing, really The tone and style was also extremely problematic to me On the one hand, Tom Wolfe is pulling zero punches when it comes to describing these pilots and the danger they constantly faced during their test flights He describes very clearly the risks they encountered every single day, and not only lived with, but THRIVED under But, on the other hand, at some point he crossed the line from healthy respect into gleefully macabre The way that he would go into gruesome, unnecessary detail when it came to jet crashes, and what happens to the pilot in them not only in general terms, but minute detailing of the death, the smell of the burning, and the texture and the appearance of the corpse afterward it just came across as being exciting to him Which is super fucked up One part in particular really bothered me in this way, and it was extremely offensive to me how he portrayed it Now, I should just add a quick note here that I have family in the military, and I respect those who serve, even if it might be for reasons I disagree with, but I am not one who blindly waves the support our troops flag or thinks anyone in uniform is sacred or something I can even walk by a uniformed person and NOT thank them for their service (It's crazy, I know.) So, I think it should say something that I was super fucking offended by the way that Wolfe portrayed the death of one of these men who died on duty It was gratuitous, completely unnecessary, and actually pissed me off because of how irreverently and excitedly he wrote about it Granted, the surviving pilots would have had to distance themselves from the understanding that it could be them crashing and burning at any time so they made light of it, didn't dwell on it, victim blamed that it was pilot error they'd never make, etc But they were the ones who still had to go up in a plane the next day Their attitude was understandable to me Wolfe's was not This is nonfiction These men were real people They were someone's son Someone's father Someone's husband Someone's brother, or cousin, or friend He used these men's gruesome deaths to feed his fucking gleeful gore fetish and it made me mad The scene where the pilot bailed out and his parachute didn't open we all know what that means We get it We understand what an 8100 foot direct freefall onto concrete, while strapped into a pilot seat, will do to a human body There's no need to write what he wrote There just isn't The attitude and tone he chose to go with is disgusting These were REAL PEOPLE, not Saw IV characters I understand that this pilot would have been alive but unable to do anything about his fate But rather than acknowledging that and being respectful of the terror of his situation in his last moments, and the dedication it takes to know, every single day, that this could be your last, (and you know that despite all their talk and bravado, every single one of these men did know that,) Wolfe goes the complete other way and reduces this person to a bag of fertilizer LITERALLY.How fucking disrespectful How insulting How cruel to his family to write something like that into a book for posterity That shit sickened me, not because of the description, but because of the condescending attitude of the shitty ass author who wrote it Fuck that guy Now, I think it's likely that he was trying to be one of the guys and act as cavalier about death as they had to be but he wasn't one of the guys He was writing about them, interviewing them, and portraying THEIR story to readers who have no idea what that life is like The author, a good author, would take all of that and clarify it, and present it in a way that doesn't change or take away from the experiences and interviews, but makes it feel real and substantial without being cruel about it This just did not work for me And then there's this: By 1949 the girls had begun turning up at Pancho's in amazing numbers They were young, lovely, juicy, frisky—and there were so many of them, at all hours, every day of the week! And they were not prostitutes, despite the accusations made later They were just… well, just young juicy girls in their twenties with terrific young conformations and sweet cupcakes and loamy loins They were sometimes described with a broad sweep as stewardesses, but only a fraction of them really were No, they were lovely young things who arrived as mysteriously as the sea gulls who sought the squirming shrimp They were moist labial piping little birds who had somehow learned that at this strange place in the high Mojave lived the hottest young pilots in the world and that this was where things were happening.Oh no no no no Nope NOPE I get that he's TRYING to represent how these guys would have seen the women but at the point he wrote it, he was an almost50yearoldman talking about girls barely out of their teens Fucking gross That shit probably makes Bill Cosby cringe That was definitely the worst that I read I Noped out pretty much at that point, but that definitely was not the first time it was pretty gross in the sexism sector The incredibly casual sexism of the time was on full display, and I just couldn't do it It wasn't all bad Chapter 4 was pretty good I wish I could remember at this point what was IN chapter 4, but after well over a month of this just sitting around all I can think of was the really, really bad stuff OH! I just remembered It was the chapter in which the pilots were all being tested for the super secret mission, and none of them knew what they were being tested for (At this point they were all just regular jet pilots nobody had any thought of going to space at all.)Still, I wouldn't recommend anyone NOT read it I would just forewarn you that you'll want to keep your sickbag handy and your hand on the ejector seat button, as it is likely to get a bit bumpy and you may need to bail out I would recommend that you keep your seatbelt fastened at all times, and in the event of a drop in cabin pressure resulting in a loss of consciousness, well at least you'd know your fate Wolfe will have described it to you in all its gleeful detail. Tom Wolfe's big and beautiful nonfiction romp makes for an absolutely A audiobook listen While listening to Dennis Quaid's narration, I felt as if a gruff stranger had sat beside me at a bar, bought me a pint, and started in on some conspiratorial, you'renotgonnabelieveit storytelling There's definitely an air of the old guard letting you in on the secrets of their exalted reign, and it is a hell of a fun bit of storytelling Wolfe somehow manages to make the writing seem conversational, dynamic, and filled with life Quaid does a bangup job bringing it all to life I was pleasantly surprised with the book's overwhelmingly funny stories, or how a reverential, countrywide event took on the aspect of the ordinary to the astronauts Wolfe's history isn't the lifeless stuff of dusty textbooks, but is instead drenched in beer, revelry, and the unexpected glory of becoming a voyager to the stars Though you get a sense of time's general trajectory, it is Wolfe's subjects that make the book such a riot I did take a while to listen to the book, but that'sof an issue of an overwhelming personal schedule than a comment on my enjoyment of the book Indeed, I often opted to read another book rather than listen to this one, but I always enjoyed checking in on the righteous brethren This one is ludicrously fun, interesting, and a must for anyone interested in the history of space flight Thanks to Glenn Sumi for putting me on to this one with his stellar review. A quite good read, but not really what I would expect from Wolfe The tone is very informal and the narrative almost unstructured conversational This makes the first third a bit slow and drawn out as we're repeatedly hammered by the problem with the start of the Mercury program being that the pilotcumastronauts would not be required, or even able to, use their flying skills The race with Russia was full on from the start and the feats being accomplished under their program, with little forewarning or insights, is compared to the Chief Designer and the Integral of Zamyatin's We This is an apt parallel, but awfully tiresome when used 2030 times Something happens near the middle of the book though, and when actual space flights and orbital flights start taking place, it's almost unputdownable.The last part of the book slows down some again, but does have it's definite highlights, such as the astronaut charm school teaching such indispensable knowledge as what way your thumbs should be pointed, should you ever put your hands on your hips (Which, as we all know, probably should be avoided altogether) Another great part is the failed Yeager attempt to set a new altitude record for the soupedup version of the F104 fighter plane.All in all, should the first third be tightened up some and a few mentions of the Integral be removed (along with a bunch of exclamation marks!) this would be brilliant As it is, it's well worth reading. Alright well how do I say this?I didn't hate it but this is a case (for me) where the book did not live up to the movie Sure there are many MANYdetails but for sheer entertainment value?All Day Baby.I liked that Yeager played a larger role than he didn't even in the movie and that the book encompasses the Apollo astronauts briefly There was also muchcontext given in relation to the geopolitical events of the day and how those impacted the space program I also had NO IDEA the Air Force tried to compete with NASA and develop their own space program.What I liked less was how long winded it is in certain places with a little too much extraneous detail for my tastes Then again, I have the attention span of a hummingbird soGood ole Dennis Quaid gave a heck of a performance Maybe he was overenthusiastic at times but he gave it his all and I appreciate that sort of passion.No offense to Tom Wolfe, but (side mouthes) the movie's better *slinks away*


About the Author: Tom Wolfe

New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.Tom Wolfe is also famous for coining and defining the term


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