No less than three books have come out within the last month or so about the "space race" between the United States and the Soviet Union — a race that began 50 years ago. Unless you're a reader who's a space nut or who has a lot of time on your hands, I'm thinking you won't want to read all three, so here's a little synopsis of each to help you choose.
In A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 — The Space Race Begins (Simon & Schuster, 260 pages, $26)...
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael D'Antonio delves into the climate of the American people as well as the scientists, engineers, government and military personnel involved in getting the U.S. into space.
Kirkus Reviews says: "A genial look at the earliest days of the space race. ... The story's charm lies in D'Antonio's evocation of the average American's response to the dawning space age. ... Recovers for a new generation the thrill of a pioneer quest and the spirit of an age that already seems like ancient history."
In Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age (Times Books, 278, $26), Matthew Brzezinski, a former Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, tells the story as a competition, where the Soviets were on a mission to build a weapon that could destroy the United States without warning, and how petty rivalries and paranoia had more to do with progress than the desire to explore the unknown.
Washington Post reviewer Bryan Burrough says: "One comes away not only entertained but informed, with a clear sense of why the pennywise Soviets leapt ahead in missile technology while the Americans, focused on developing bombers to reach Russian soil, failed to realize the importance of space until they woke beneath a communist moon."
"Live From Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, From Sputnik to Today is a memoir by Jay Barbree, who moved to Cocoa Beach, Fla., after the launch of Sputnik, and has covered every manned space flight since for NBC. (Tom Brokaw writes the preface.)
Publisher's Weekly says: "Barbree's inside access allows him to give pungent details: in 1961, 'the astronauts' crew quarters... were smelly, military, uncomfortable and too damn close to the chimpanzees' colony'. ... While recounting the exploits of the early cowboy astronauts, he gives equal time to the tragedies of Apollo 1 and Challenger and the near-tragedy of Apollo 13. Barbree writes with infectious enthusiasm about the glory days of space exploration."