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

This is an authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, which means that Armstrong actively participated in the preparation of this book, making himself available for interviews and allowing others close to him to share their insights as well. As such, there is a lot of wealth in the details of this book, drawn from a wealth of interviews and primary documents. In fact, the author consistently points out when opinions in the book are drawn from various personal interviews.As one might imagine, however, this honesty can lead to a rather clumsy narrative. And the narrative of this biography, unfortunately, is at times clumsy. Hansen may be a first rate researcher (it appears so) and he may have a depth of knowledge of the history of the space program (he is, after all, a full history professor at Auburn University). But he is not a first-rate writer or biographer. Time and again he overexamines certain things (like Armstrong's military career); time and again the narrative of this exciting story stumbles along, tripping over itself.Armstrong is often compared to Charles Lindbergh, and as I read this book, I found it impossible to not compare it with A. Scott Berg's excellent Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lindbergh. Hansen's biography pales to Berg's in any comparison, from the incorporation of the key flight (Berg manages to keep the transatlantic flight to a manageable and appropriate portion of his book; in First Man Apollo 11 is about a quarter of the book). Berg delves into the effects of Lindbergh's flight on the rest of his life; Hansen skips through Armstrong's subsequent life (all 35 years of it) in less than 100 pages, or in roughly the same amount of space he describes the lunar voyage/landing component of Apollo 13.Still, it is unlikely that this biography will be exceeded during Armstrong's lifetime, and it may take some years after his death before a full-scale attempt is made again to tell this story. So it is an important book and a necessary resource in the field of space history.
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