My Copy: 9780312427566 (image from booktopia.com.au)
I’ll admit: I saw the film based on this book probably a few dozen times before I ever read the book. Tom Wolfe’s book about the beginnings of the U.S. Space Program is a fascinating real-life story, in that it’s far more about the people involved, especially the first astronauts.
The Right Stuff begins with the origins of aviation and the fighter jocks, the men who went up in the planes and brought them down safely, and the test pilots. The “right stuff” refers to the unspoken qualities of a great pilot, and the firm belief that even with a military hierarchical structure, you either had it or you didn’t. And no one wanted to be the one that didn’t because that would mean you’d get “left behind” and never reach the top of the pyramid… never get the chance.
You get immersed in the culture of the fighter pilots, the aerial combat vets, and when WW2 was done, the test pilots. Then you get more into what helped develop the space program, pioneering sound barrier breakers like Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield. Then when Sputnik 1 is launched by the Soviets, the “right stuff” and its understanding begins to change.
The Right Stuff comprises lots of history (naturally), biography, but is also a story about technological changes and shifts in attitude from the 1940s to the mid 1960s, and the changes between the public and private spheres for these men who became astronauts (and their families).
I’d recommend this for any history, Navy, Air Force, or space buff. It’s a fantastic book.
And if you haven’t seen the epic film from 1983, featuring Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, and many others… then you’ve missed out on a great film and oughta see it.
(Though there are a few things that bother me about it, mainly because of time allotted you don’t get the story of all the astronauts, therefore, read the book first and get a better, in-depth story. But has a ton of awe and humor to boot.)
I figured out when I got to the end that some of the source material for The Right Stuff is sitting on my shelves…I’ll get to it soon (hee hee).