Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: The Right Stuff by Thomas Wolfe.

In light of the hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of the "moon walk", I decided to read about the US space program. Thomas Wolfe's acclaimed The Right Stuff seemed a good place to go.

Since the book was published 30 years ago, and was made into a 1983 movie, it has somewhat permeated the public consciousness. Accordingly, I will keep this review brief. The book actually begins well before the "moon walk" phase of the space program. It deals primarily with the Mercury missions which involved Earth orbits--not moon landings.

Three aspects of the book bear mention even today. First, the book does a good job capturing the political environment from which the space program emerged. Near hysteria about Soviet domination of space had more to do with US space exploration than a scientific curiosity about the "final frontier." It's quite amazing what can be achieved through fear. Second, Wolfe creatively posits astronauts as types of biblical single-combat warriors (e.g. David and Goliath). I had not heard this analogy made before in this context, and I thought it insightful, especially given the time's climate. Third, I wonder if the country has the political will to take such risks any more.

The Right Stuff is a folksy, yet informative, foray into the genesis of the US space program (and even before). Further, it offers insights salient to today.