If the United States couldn't catch up to the Soviets in space, how could it compete with them on Earth? That was the question facing John F. Kennedy at the height of the Cold War--a perilous time when the Soviet Union built the wall in Berlin, tested nuclear bombs more destructive than any in history, and beat the United States to every major milestone in space. Mercury Rising re-creates the tension and excitement of a flight that shifted the momentum of the space race and put the United States on the path to the moon.
Jeff Shesol’s Mercury Rising highlights this fragility in a refreshing narrative that captures the sometimes dispiriting realities of America’s debut in space ... In the end, Shesol argues, Kennedy embraced a dramatically expanded space program not out of genuine conviction of its value so much as a desire to bolster national prestige at a time when many Americans believed the Soviets held the upper hand in the Cold War ... An expert on presidential oratory and a onetime White House speechwriter for Bill Clinton, Shesol is the author of well-regarded histories of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 plan to expand the Supreme Court and Lyndon Johnson’s bitter relationship with Bobby Kennedy. Yet Mercury Rising is at least as successful when it departs the White House and zeros in on the other, less familiar man at the center of the story, John Glenn. Shesol dutifully relates the arc of Glenn’s life ... Mercury Rising relates such details, not to mention the blow-by-blow of Glenn’s three orbits around the Earth, with verve, revealing Shesol’s extraordinary talent as a storyteller. The only downside is that Shesol rarely breaks from his rollicking narrative to lay out the larger context or to engage the big questions his story poses ... Yet Shesol’s story raises inescapable questions about whether space exploration is quite what its enthusiasts have often claimed.
In this dramatic account, Shesol (Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court) tells the story of the first manned American spaceflight into orbit. In the introduction, Shesol skillfully sets the scene, describing an anxious nation that watched as John Glenn prepared to launch aboard the spacecraft Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962 ... This well-researched and exciting read is recommended for those interested in the history of the space race or the Cold War.
Shesol chronicles the early days of the space program with a historian’s attention to detail and a novelist’s flair for interesting storytelling ... The story of how (and why) NASA so quickly got its act together is fascinating, as is the parallel story of the original seven Mercury astronauts, especially John Glenn, who were considered virtual superheroes at the time. The success of Glenn’s mission, to riotous acclaim for the agency but especially for the man, kick-started America’s space program into high gear and set it on the path to the moon