“Spectacular.” — Vanity Fair.
“The Apollo 11 mission has found its historian. Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men supplies a superb survey of the Cold War origins of the space race — and a scintillating, suspenseful and surprising ‘you are there’ account of the ups and downs of the astronauts assigned to the 30-story-high Saturn V spaceship. Forty years later, when the space program has lost its luster, Rocket Men, at least temporarily, returns us to a time of grand dreams and great American achievement.” — NPR.
“Rocket Men places Apollo 11 in a broader narrative of American engineering genius, and captures the drama and chaos of July 1969 and the almost unbearable tension of the moon landing, [the latter] described so vividly that the engrossed reader isn’t sure that Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin are going to make it.” — The Washington Post.
“Compelling … rich in stories and first-person descriptions … poignant and thought-provoking. In many ways, Nelson’s task in presenting this history is as daunting as NASA’s original challenge. But he rises to the occasion with meticulous research, skillful storytelling rich in detail, and a narrative arc as stimulating and disciplined as Apollo 11’s own trajectory.” — The Dallas Morning News.
A broad and often entertaining account … a fact-junkie’s dream … plenty of historical perspective [and] an often gripping narrative.” — The Wall Street Journal.
“Exquisitely controlled … full of heart-pounding detail … His book is that rare combination of a definitive history and a great read. When the centennial of mankind’s giant leap is celebrated, readers will be hard pressed to find anything better.” — The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“From the swamp to the stars, a masterful tale of Apollo 11. While not slighting the skill, bravery and hard work of the astronauts themselves, Rocket Men is a love letter to [NASA’s engineering] nerds. Nelson has the ability to turn an elegant phrase, an observant eye and a knack for crisp characterization, to not lose the story amid the torrent of technical arcana. He’s an author enthralled with the tale he’s telling, and more often than not has command of his material — and what material.” — The Austin American-Statesman.
“The definitive history of the moon landing … Rocket Men captures not only the historical richness behind the Apollo 11 mission but also the breadth, depth and humanity of the teams that achieved it. — The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“It was glorious. I know — I was there, kneeling, unable to breathe, before a television screen, watching Armstrong step off Eagle onto the regolith. I read Rocket Men in the same mood of boyhood wonder. So should you.” — The Times [London].
“Inspirational history … vivid recreation … lucid insights … the definitive account of a watershed in American history.” — Kirkus (starred review).
“Epic … momentous … extensively researched [with] nail-biting detail … an exciting read.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review).
“Magnificent … [a] songwriter summed it up perfectly, ‘To all the unknown heroes, sing out to every shore / What makes one step a giant leap is all the steps before.’ Nelson brightly illuminates those steps.” — Booklist (starred review).
“A surprisingly good read … a comprehensive, contextual and highly personalized overview … The cumulative effect of Nelson’s research is that by the time the booster rockets have fallen away and Apollo 11 is hurtling toward outer space, the reader is fully invested in the story and in the hundreds of thousands of people who had made it possible. You’re holding your breath as Armstrong maneuvers the LM safely between lunar boulders and you’re cheering with the Mission Control staff as Armstrong utters the words we know by heart: ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.’” — The Houston Chronicle.
“An engaging contribution … Rocket Men never goes for long without executing some nice writerly flourish. Among Nelson’s achievements is the restoration of a certain grandeur to the moon itself.” — The New York Times.
“Rocket Men revives the epic sense felt by those watching Armstrong on television that night, an audience that Nelson puts at anywhere from 600 million to 1 billion. Best of all, thanks to Nelson’s breezy style, “Rocket Men” makes for fascinating, even entertaining reading.” — The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“When John F. Kennedy in May 1961, told the nation, ‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,’ it was by no means certain that the United States would be the first nation to do so. Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men, published on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, is a fitting tribute to that achievement. … The range of voices in the selections Nelson quotes, from German scientists with still-haphazard English, to fact-spouting engineers, to laconic test pilots, gives this sky-gazing book its solidly grounded air. Nelson has a novelist’s skill at weaving a compelling narrative and deftly sketches his leading characters … [it is] history that Nelson’s book eloquently captures.” — The San Francisco Chronicle.
“A punchy, popular history. Gripping, geekily detailed accounts of what it was like to ride a Saturn V or walk on another planet are interspersed with an equally lively take on the cold war strategising behind the mission. This whizzy history of Apollo 11 is particularly good at unpicking the tangle of motives behind President John F Kennedy’s 1961 decision to send a man to the moon ‘before this decade is out.’ Yet Rocket Men also illustrates how Apollo managed to be about more than cold war power-play – about more, even, than the conquest of space. Even as the astronauts hurled themselves outwards into space, they looked back to where they had come from.” — The Financial Times.
“With Nelson’s impeccable research, his ability to tie the myriad strings of the space race into a coherent whole and the power of the story itself, Rocket Men should be at the top of your book list.” — New Scientist.
“Anyone with an ounce of poetry in their soul would have to concede that reaching the moon really was a giant leap for mankind. For the sheer drama, majesty and improbability of it all, it’s a story that will be told time and time again. But rarely as well as this.” – The Business Post [Dublin].
“I grew up thinking man was destined to go to the moon. After reading Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men, I now know how tenuous, scary, and human the space program actually was. This book gives us hope that America can once again find a way to accomplish the seemingly impossible.” — Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea.
“As a boy in 1969, I was fascinated when man landed on the moon. Now, forty years later, Craig Nelson has brought this gripping story to life. Relive the excitement in Rocket Men.” — James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys and The Imperial Cruise.
For the first time, an award-winning historian tells the full, epic story of the Space and Missile Race and its dramatic conclusion: the first moment when humankind set foot on another planet.
On May 20, 1969, the thirty-story-high Apollo 11-Saturn V spaceship was trundled from Cape Kenendy’s Vehicle Assembly Building to the distant loneliness of Pad 39A for its final inspection and countdown. The missile had 6 million parts, which meant that, under NASA’s rigorous insistence of 99.9% reliability, as many as 6,000 could fail. The nearly one million spectators who began gathering at the Cape were kept at least 3.5 miles away from the pad because, in the event the rocket exploded, it would hurl 100-pound shrapnel a radius of 3 miles with 4/5ths the power of an atomic bomb. Finally, , at 9:32 a.m. on July 16, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins lifted into the skies on the greatest adventure in modern history: the first trip to the Moon.
Restoring the drama, majesty and sheer improbability of an American triumph that have now come to be taken for granted, ROCKET MEN is the complete, definitive and thrilling account of that glorious achievement, from the origins of NASA’s spaceships as Nazi wonder weapons, to the lives of the men and women who created this miracle. When President Kennedy proposed a moon landing within a decade as the most effective way to take the lead in the space race after the shocking Soviet achievements of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit, even NASA’s most zealous engineers were aghast. But thanks to a stunning and unprecedented effort of planning, technology and execution, the Eagle lunar module successfully touched down on the moon’s surface, and a star-struck world watched as Armstrong took his astonishing small step.
Through interviews, 23,000 pages of NASA oral histories, and declassified CIA documents on the space race, Craig Nelson offers a grippingly vivid and detailed narrative of the Apollo 11 mission, from its crew’s inconceivably arduous training to the stresses of finding themselves media stars on the global stage after their return, from the mundane (the astronauts’ final breakfast on earth was steak and eggs, low in fiber and low in waste), to the remarkable (the lunar samples brought to earth by the Apollo missions revealed the Moon’s origins) to the unintentionally comic (NASA designers had neglected to place a handle on Eagle’s outside door, which meant that Armstrong and Aldrin had to make sure to leave it cracked open while they walked on the Moon).
ROCKET MEN is the story of a twentieth-century pilgrimage; a voyage into the unknown motivated by politics, faith, science, and wonder that changed the course of history. But the story of Apollo 11 is, in the end, fundamentally a human one, featuring the genuinely heroic - and idiosyncratic - astronauts, their stoic wives, distracted children, and the tech teams at Mission Control (which always smelled of burned coffee, cigarettes, and Mexican takeout), all of whom are unforgettable characters in this thrilling account of this journey to one of the last frontiers of the human imagination. It is a book to make you cheer for what mankind can accomplish in spite of nearly insurmountable odds.