Our Most Liked Review Ever

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story

By Lily Koppel

Since we told you about our most hated review, we thought you might enjoy knowing what was our most liked. Sad to say it wasn’t a stellar review of a truly meritorious novel or non-fiction book. Nope.

Sometimes you dash off a blurb of a book review and expect nothing of it. Then, to your surprise, it resonates with people who shared your expectations and were equally disappointed. So it was with Koppel’s really cursory and inadequate coverage of a topic we had high hopes for. More than 9 out of 10 of the hundreds who read the review that follows at the end either found it helpful or concurred with our evaluation.

When Stephanie Savage (known for Gossip Girl) reimagined the book as a limited-episode television event running on ABC, we decided to give it look. Sometimes with the vision and skill of a good show runner a bad book can make for good film. Unfortunately, the television version of Koppel’s book proved as vapid as her book. While the production values, a visually interesting pictorial of the fashions, tract homes and autos of the late 50s and 60s, were quite good, the story line, which included a love interest involving a Life magazine reporter and Louise Shepard, proved mundane, riddled with cliches, and, worst of all, revealed nothing additional about the wives.

Here’s the review:

In the name of comprehensiveness, Lily Koppel sacrifices a lot, that being a deeper understanding of what it must have been like to be the wives of the astronauts, especially wives of the Mercury 7. In fact,the early pages devoted to the Mercury program are the best part of the book. Koppel probably would have produced a better, more in-depth, and more insightful examination had she focused on these early years. Just our opinion.

Too, much of what she does cover we know already. Long periods of separation, check. Pressure on marriages, check. Horndog husbands (except for a few), check. Tears and breakdowns, check. Bossy NASA, check.

There’s a great book lurking in the subject, that’s for certain. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Decent reportage at best.

Perhaps a brilliant novelist whose long suit is psychological analysis will tackle the subject. Now, that might be an interesting book.

And no index, no listing of astronauts and wives [included in current editions], nothing you would expect in a non-fiction book of this sort.

The astronaut wives endured a lot and deserve better. A disappointment. w/c

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Outer Space Inspires Once Again

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

By Lynn Sherr

Yesterday, Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko blasted off to spend a year in space. The purpose is to experiment in preparation for a manned two to three year mission to Mars. In light of this new effort, perhaps it’s time to pause and remember one of the great space personalities, America’s first woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride. And among the best ways to do that is to read Lynn Sherr’s fine biography of this multidimensional woman.

Sherr does Dr. Sally Ride more than justice. She not only focuses on what Ride accomplished while with NASA, which went beyond being the first American woman in space, but also her contribution to greater equality between men and women (still a ways off, of course), greater opportunities for women in science, and greater science literacy among the American public, in particular, inspiring young girls and boys to pursue careers in the sciences.

Sherr starts at the beginning with the Ride family, parents and sister Bear. Ride was an outstanding athlete and a college ranked tennis player. She was also very smart; she loved literature and possessed a passion for math and physics, a career in which she went on to pursue. This opened up the NASA opportunity and she took it. If there was ever an old boys club, NASA was it. What a curious creature this Sally Ride was, a woman who thought she could do a man’s job. Of course, Ride triumphed to the point where she became the most recognizable face of NASA. She was always, even in the midst of institutional incompetence, even after she left, always a team player. But a team player who wasn’t afraid to surface the flaws in NASA’s management of programs, not once, but twice: Challenger and Columbia.

Her experiences at NASA exposed her to much, putting her into contact with major figures in American politics and business. She could have done any number of things after NASA. She did do much, but primary among her endeavors was showing women that there was a place for them in the sciences, that they were good at math and science, and guess what?, math and science were fun and fulfilling. Sally Ride Science became the vehicle for spreading the word through space camps, educational programs, and media.

Sally Ride was a private person who revealed little about herself, often not even to those closest to her. In the end, the very end, she relented. Sherr mixes throughout information about Ride’s feminism, her marriage, and her loves. She devotes a chapter to Ride’s sexuality and her long and loving life with Tam O’Shaughnessy. She also spends time on Ride’s untimely death from pancreatic cancer, a death met with dignity.

Includes photos, notes on the author’s primary sources (interviews with many people whom Ride loved, worked with, and touched throughout her life), and an index.

Finally, if you have children, especially daughters, you might consider putting this book in their hands. Ultimately, above Ride’s abundance of accomplishments, what most shines though in Sherr’s biography is Dr. Sally Ride’s ability to inspire. So, why not give children and grandchildren a little inspiration? c/w

Ideology vs. Morality

The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men

By Eric Lichtblau 

Of course you knew that at the end of World War II, the U.S. brought known Nazis to the country to develop our rocket program and launch our space program. The old Soviet government did the same. But it went beyond that, as if that would not have been bad enough. We brought on hundreds, maybe thousands, more to operate as spies. Others slipped in because we weren’t especially diligent with our immigration policies.

Perhaps when you cast your mind back over the Cold War, you might think welcoming top notch scientific minds and on-the-ground spies (experienced fighters of Communism!) acceptable, considering the early frosting of American-Soviet relations. You know, whatever it takes to defeat the Communists. As Allen Dulles, head of U.S. wartime intelligence in Europe and later CIA director, said, American spies “should be free to talk to the Devil himself.” All’s fair in … well, no need to dwell on this.

But perhaps you’ll feel differently when you learn more about these Nazis, how our government officials distinguished between good and bad Nazis, how, ultimately, officials turned a blind eye to these Nazis’s deeds in the name of winning the war against Communism. In other words, some of our military, our CIA, and our FBI allowed what was in their minds an ideological imperative to cloud their judgement. And later, when groups began exposing the Nazis on our soil and their heinous crimes against men, women, and children, leaders in these same organizations worked to thwart efforts to denaturalize and deport war criminals to protect the reputations of their organizations.

Some of these Nazis will ring a bell with you. Famous and infamous are the likes of Wernher von Braun, Hubertus Strughold (honored as the father of space medicine, in fact until 2013), and John Demjanjuk. Others, like Nazi collaborator Aleksandras Lileikis, Otto von Bolschwing, and Tscherim “Tom” Soobzokov will soon be as familiar, they and many others like them.

Also familiar to you will become the men and women who hunted down these Nazis and worked over years and through tremendous frustrations thrown in their way by their, our, own government, to earn some semblance of justice for the hundreds of thousands who perished at the orders or the hands of Americanized Nazis, including Chuck Allen, Eli Rosenbaum, and many members of the Office of Special Investigations operating in the Criminal Division of the DOJ.

Lichtblau offers up much to ponder and lessons to learn. But above all, he demonstrates that when we allow ideology to supplant American values, to override justice, to so distort our national compass that we will tack in the direction of the devil, then we must seriously examine our concept of humanity. w/c

Not A-OK

Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story

By Lily Koppel

When Lily Koppel’s book came out in 2013, I picked up a copy with considerable expectations. While various astronauts have been written about extensively, their wives have been treated like wallpaper, there to prettify the room. Koppel would rectify that, I hoped. But she disappointed me with an expansive, shallow effort that sacrificed a deeper appreciation for what the space club women endured. Many readers appeared to agree, judging by the response to the review, which you’ll find below.

Now, a television show will premiere this year based on Koppel’s book (network, cable, or other source yet to be announced). I’m hoping for better from the show, yet it might be hope dashed. Stephanie Savage is producer and probably showrunner. Her best known work includes Gossip Girl and The O.C. In addition, she served as an associate producer of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In other words, nothing that inspires hope. You never know, though.

Here’s what I said about Koppel’s Astronaut Wives Club in 2013 on another venue:

In the name of comprehensiveness, Lily Koppel sacrifices a lot, that being a deeper understanding of what it must have been like to be the wives of the astronauts, especially wives of the Mercury 7. In fact,the early pages devoted to the Mercury program are the best part of the book. Koppel probably would have produced a better, more in-depth, and more insightful examination had she focused on these early years. Just my opinion.

Too, much of what she does cover we know already. Long periods of separation, check. Pressure on marriages, check. Horndog husbands (except for a few), check. Tears and breakdowns, check. Bossy NASA, check.

There’s a great book lurking in the subject, that’s for certain. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Decent reportage at best.

Perhaps a brilliant novelist whose long suit is psychological analysis will tackle the subject. Now, that might be an interesting book.

And no index, no listing of astronauts and wives, nothing you would expect in a non-fiction book of this sort.

The astronaut wives endured a lot and deserve better. A disappointment. w/c