Review for First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

As the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, this book has the usual faults and virtues of such an exercise. On one hand, due to access to private materials, significant myths are debunked about the subject. On the other, one can sometimes wonder how forthright the author is about what he is thinking about his subject. In between tracking the choices that led to Armstrong becoming the first man to step onto the Moon, and the technology that was involved, the point that crystallized the book for me came late, when Armstrong admitted that while his flying was not very intuitive, he made up for this with more precision. This admission could describe much of the rest of Armstrong’s life, as he seemed to function best in structured environments where problems could be dealt with in isolation. Unfortunately, this was not an approach that served Armstrong well either in his first marriage, where he seems to have given too little back in terms of emotional support and time, or in post-astronaut life in general, where the man’s iconic status (and generally closed personality) seemed to lead to, at best, general awkwardness.This also offers some insight into the resentment that the community of military test pilots seemed to have for the man (a running topic in this book), in that Armstrong’s desire to keep his own counsel and avoid personal conflict could be seen as arrogance and his flying style might be seen as awkward by men who were more intuitive fliers. This, of course, discounts the Darwinian drive for prestige and advancement between the American military and civilian aerospace efforts, which the civilian side was probably always going to win, with Armstrong probably being the leading civilian test pilot in the NACA/NASA complex (not to mention being a good organization man). Hansen, being a NASA man himself, might not best placed to comment on this issue. I might be unfair in this instance, as Hansen does seem to deal forthrightly with how the crew of Apollo 11 was anything but a band of brothers (which was seen as unusual at the time); possibly a comment on Armstrong's leadership skills.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Go back