There are many pieces to the Apollo 8 story, but Kurson brings them together effortlessly. We see the human aspect of the flight from stories of the astronauts and how their families cope with the danger of the mission. We learn the engineering challenges that must be overcome. We learn the engineering challenges that must be overcome and how Apollo 8 paved the way for subsequent flights, most important the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. All of this is going on as America seethes and riots over civil rights and the Vietnam War. But times of trouble give way to hopes for the future. Kurson puts us in the command module as the astronauts read movingly from the Book of Genesis and on Christmas Eve as Anders takes the historic photo that astounded America and the world.
Kurson has a good dramatic storytelling style ... and his portrayals of the pioneering astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders (all of whom were interviewed by the author), turns these men from historical figures into real people. The book is proof that there’s room in the marketplace for more than one book about a well-known event.
The book is well-written overall, and Kurson interviewed all three members of the Apollo 8 crew for it. If there’s one drawback to it, though, it’s that the story is a familiar one: the books doesn’t really unearth anything new about the mission that had not been discussed in previous books or articles ... Rocket Men is a good book about the Apollo 8 mission, but perhaps one best suited for those not familiar with the mission at all versus those who have already read various books about the mission and are looking for new details. The book, and the mission itself, offer a reminder that sometimes science fiction becomes science fact, if not necessarily the way we envisioned it.
To understand the added dangers of a lunar orbit mission, the reader must understand some rocketry basics. Here’s where Kurson is our man. As he takes us through the flight moment by moment, his instinct for what needs explaining and in how much detail is unerring ... Kurson unpacks this and several other critical maneuvers, effectively escalating the tension ... What Kurson has managed is impressive, given the hundreds of hours of transcripts he waded through.
Kurson’s conception-to-splashdown reporting had the cooperation from the astronauts and their wives, giving him invaluable details of what happened inside the astronaut’s capsule and in their homes below. Most readers already know how the mission turned out (success!), but Kurson builds suspense around a mind-bendingly complex and dangerous journey.
Robert Kurson is a writer with the ability to use historical facts to build a suspenseful narrative ... Readers discouraged by our present contentious society need to read Kurson’s chapter summarizing the tumultuous events of 1968. He makes a valid point that Apollo 8’s success not only salvaged the space program but also managed to relieve the pessimism regarding the future into which the country had plunged ... The reader will be comforted to find that these men have all lived long and successful lives following their historic mission and that their character traits should not be considered unique among our fellow citizens.
Robert Kurson’s Rocket Men is a riveting introduction to the flight. The book takes off when Apollo’s massive launch vehicle, the Saturn V, rises — an experience like 'watching the Empire State Building leave Earth' ... If Rocket Men has a minor shortcoming, it is a sin of omission. Although Kurson’s source notes mention 'papers once secret' that 'have now been declassified,' he is silent on Operation Paperclip, the government program that sanitized the war records of Nazi engineers ... because this gripping book will acquaint new people with the space program, I wish he had touched on the program’s paradoxes and ethical complexity. Against a dark background, the triumph of Apollo 8 would not appear any less radiant.
The author offers biographies of those involved, a nuts-and-bolts account of four months of training and the flight itself, which was not without glitches, and digressions into events of 1968 America, torn by strife over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Most readers know how the story turned out, so Kurson strains to generate suspense, and space buffs will quickly realize that this is a journalistic account aimed at a mass audience (clue: the astronauts’ courtships and family lives receive prominent attention). An overly breathless yet entertaining account of a pioneering space mission that deserves to be better known.
Kurson effectively recreates the era, recalling the tumult of a changing nation, as well as the tension felt by those involved both on Earth and in space, of a mission with little margin for error. Kurson writes in clear, simple language, avoiding technical matters and cryptic NASA jargon to focus on the people involved. Fans of explorers and adventurers will enjoy Kurson’s vibrant, accessible history.