The Right Stuff: Illustrated

Tom Wolfe

Published by Black Dog & Leventhal, 2004
ISBN 10: 1579124585 / ISBN 13: 9781579124588
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Synopsis: First published in 1979 to extraordinary acclaim, Tom Wolfe’s landmark work became an instant bestseller, going on to sell more than 2.5 million copies. It is a true story that is as exciting as the best fiction—the tale of American heroes Yeager, Conrad, Grissom, and Glenn—men who were willing to put their lives on the line in pursuit of the final frontier.

With stunning accuracy and captivating prose, Wolfe recounts the details of the lives of these men, their families, and of NASA’s Project Mercury program. The result is a vivid history that could only be enhanced by actual historic photographs.

The Right Stuff Illustrated includes hundreds of photographs and reproductions of documents and memorabilia pertaining to the Project Mercury program, the current events surrounding the program, and the political climate that led up to the missions in the early 1960’s. It’s the perfect gift book for lovers of history and the space program, as well as the millions of fans of The Right Stuff.

Review: Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero."

Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood. As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program. After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier. Test pilots, we discover, are people who live fast lives with dangerous machines, not all of them airborne. Chuck Yeager was certainly among the fastest, and his determination to push through Mach 1--a feat that some had predicted would cause the destruction of any aircraft--makes him the book's guiding spirit.

Yet soon the focus shifts to the seven initial astronauts. Wolfe traces Alan Shepard's suborbital flight and Gus Grissom's embarrassing panic on the high seas (making the controversial claim that Grissom flooded his Liberty capsule by blowing the escape hatch too soon). The author also produces an admiring portrait of John Glenn's apple-pie heroism and selfless dedication. By the time Wolfe concludes with a return to Yeager and his late-career exploits, the narrative's epic proportions and literary merits are secure. Certainly The Right Stuff is the best, the funniest, and the most vivid book ever written about America's manned space program. --Patrick O'Kelley

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Right Stuff: Illustrated
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal
Publication Date: 2004
Book Condition: New

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