John Glenn became celebrated in all corners of the world as not just the first American to orbit the Earth, but as the first space traveler to take the human race with him. Refusing to let that dramatic day define his life, he went on to become a four-term US senator—and returned to space at the age of seventy-seven.
[Glenn] is uncovered as a fun-loving man who resisted the boardroom and befriended both the janitor and Bobby Kennedy with equal sincerity ... Glenn’s political decisions are also challenged, positioning him as a technocrat who had difficulties with revelations of campaign finance irregularities. There’s adequate context for all, including about the air war in Korea and around US politics and culture during the space race with the Soviets.
George’s biography breezes through Glenn’s busy, ever-changing career with promises to examine his life in an inspirational way, seeing him as a memorial to a more honest time before the Watergate era of national cynicism. It’s a well-worn approach historians have used to describe Glenn for almost half a century ... George makes a good case that Glenn was heroic without being perfect ... The book has moments of intriguing insight ... George’s description of the Sen. Glenn of the next few decades — bland, indecisive and a dull public speaker — seems a long way, however, from the 'last hero' she promised. Readers also hoping for the promised insight into Glenn’s personality and a look at who he was behind the public image are unlikely to find it in this book. Times when we obtain a deeper glimpse of Glenn’s character are referenced from his memoirs. Often-disputed stories are never fully examined, they are simply repeated. Glenn’s wife, Annie, a fixture of his life so consistent that they almost operated as a single individual, is a ghostlike figure in this book whom we never get to know ... having moved through all of Glenn’s life without ever deviating from his own recounting of it, the busy final 17 years between his memoir and his death are only hastily covered in this book’s epilogue. It’s a missed opportunity to tell us something new ... As an overview of a fascinating career, this book concisely shows how, despite technological leaps such as the space race, human character is what will always fascinate us most. We learn a lot about what Glenn did, but we never learn why he did those things or who he was, which would be key to what the author promised to explore. Glenn was a complex man from a complex age, far deeper and more interesting than this book suggests.
While Glenn and Nick Taylor’s biography John Glenn: A Memoir and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff offer more details about NASA and Glenn’s role in the Space Race, George provides interesting insights into the mark he left on American culture.