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On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch thirty-eight-year-old American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong become the first person ever to step on the surface of another heavenly body. Perhaps no words in human history became better known than those few he uttered at that historic moment.
Upon his return to Earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also -- as James R. Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important authorized biography -- misunderstood. Armstrong's accomplishments as an engineer, a test pilot, and an astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen's unprecedented access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield this first in-depth analysis of an elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over.
In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly re-creates Armstrong's career in flying, from his seventy-eight combat missions as a naval aviator flying over North Korea to his formative transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to his piloting Gemini VIII to the first-ever docking in space. These milestones made it seem, as Armstrong's mother, Viola, memorably put it, "as if from the very moment he was born -- farther back still -- that our son was somehow destined for the Apollo 11 mission."
For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong's storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children. For the thirty-six years since the Moon landing, rumors have swirled around Armstrong concerning his dreams of space travel, his religious beliefs, and his private life.
In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and as an individual. In First Man, the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history's most famous space traveler.
Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9780743281713
List price: $14.57
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    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.more
    An amazing book which if filled with technical detail as well as anecdotes about Neil Armstrong. Most of the excruciating detail could be better served as an appendix, but overall an interesting read, if you can get past the first 150 pages. The book explains some of Mr. Armstrong's "recluse behavior", which I for one never thought he practiced and admired him for not embracing fame, especially at this age of reality TV and other shameful displays of humanity. Several pages of this book are dedicated to misconceptions about the moon landing, especially those circulating in cyber space, which alone is worth the price of the book.The book moves from excruciating technical details to moving personal stories, all important to help us understand the subject at hand. As in any history book / biography the most interesting parts are the small anecdotes we never will hear.more
    I really enjoyed the history behind the moon landing and Neil Armstrong. I remember the moon landing, but never knew the man. All the details were fascinating, and made for a good flow through his life, but also seemed tedius at times. At the same time, I'd like to know a little more of his life outside of his career and how that influenced him. Some of the narration seemed weak. James Hansen obviously tried to bring the story full circle at the end, but the feeling was almost contrived (I won't spoil it...).more
    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.more
    What a fascinating read. If you remember watching those grainy black & white TV pictures in 1969 and can still feel the excitement, read this - it will bring it all back. And it convincingly debunks and refutes the ridiculous notion that the heroic adventure never took place.more
    Has some juicy space gossip. Armstrong dishes the dirt on why Chuck Yeager crashed his jet in the film The Right Stuff...apparently Yeager didn't use simulators and knew not how to orient his jet in the thin atmosphere. The book does look into every nook and cranny of Armstrong's personal history, including lots of boring stuff.more
    Read all 9 reviews

    Reviews

    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.more
    An amazing book which if filled with technical detail as well as anecdotes about Neil Armstrong. Most of the excruciating detail could be better served as an appendix, but overall an interesting read, if you can get past the first 150 pages. The book explains some of Mr. Armstrong's "recluse behavior", which I for one never thought he practiced and admired him for not embracing fame, especially at this age of reality TV and other shameful displays of humanity. Several pages of this book are dedicated to misconceptions about the moon landing, especially those circulating in cyber space, which alone is worth the price of the book.The book moves from excruciating technical details to moving personal stories, all important to help us understand the subject at hand. As in any history book / biography the most interesting parts are the small anecdotes we never will hear.more
    I really enjoyed the history behind the moon landing and Neil Armstrong. I remember the moon landing, but never knew the man. All the details were fascinating, and made for a good flow through his life, but also seemed tedius at times. At the same time, I'd like to know a little more of his life outside of his career and how that influenced him. Some of the narration seemed weak. James Hansen obviously tried to bring the story full circle at the end, but the feeling was almost contrived (I won't spoil it...).more
    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.more
    What a fascinating read. If you remember watching those grainy black & white TV pictures in 1969 and can still feel the excitement, read this - it will bring it all back. And it convincingly debunks and refutes the ridiculous notion that the heroic adventure never took place.more
    Has some juicy space gossip. Armstrong dishes the dirt on why Chuck Yeager crashed his jet in the film The Right Stuff...apparently Yeager didn't use simulators and knew not how to orient his jet in the thin atmosphere. The book does look into every nook and cranny of Armstrong's personal history, including lots of boring stuff.more
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