- Paperback: 624 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (11 November 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307389374
- ISBN-13: 978-0307389374
- ASIN: 0307389375
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3.1 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,04,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (Vintage) Paperback – 11 Nov 2008
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"Surpasses all previous books about [von Braun]. . . . Deeply researched, vigorously written, and balanced in its judgments."—The Boston Globe"A serious, important book that does justice to its subject's moral complexity and place in history."—Los Angeles Times Book Review “Neufeld's thoroughly satisfying biography . . . written in clear, fast-paced prose, offers the most complete, fully documented and critical account that the imperfect documentary record is likely to yield.”—The New York Times Book Review “A historian's masterpiece, will become the definitive biography.”—American Scientist
About the Author
Michael Neufeld is the museum curator in the Space History Division of The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He was educated at the University of Calgary and The Johns Hopkins University, where he received his doctorate in history. His book The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era was published by The Free Press in 1995 and was awarded the AIAA History Manuscript Award and the SHOT Dexter Prize. He lives in Maryland.See all Product description
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I have two complaints: first, the author tends to get opinionated in regards to politics in some places. I'd rather not provide specific examples, but suffice it to say that the author seems to have felt compelled to blame all of America's issues in the 1960s and 70s on certain political groups. There is no place for this in a balanced biography.
Second, I felt that this book could have been more readable. At times the text seemed stuffy and long-winded.
Otherwise, this is the first biography of von Braun I recommend to anyone.
I felt this book contained almost too much detail, and often found myself "speed reading" over certain details of his family life but never those concerning his controversial life. I believe this fine book was the result of a fairly unbiased point of view and find myself agreeing with the book's closing remarks.
I was also very saddened to read that great efforts were made by his influential friends to convince federal authorities to award his life's work with some grand gesture. It was further saddening to learn that several figures in government circles having the power to influence this decision refused to do so because of his early work in Germany. It is only clear to me now that von Braun was never completely forgiven for developing the V-2, and only permitted to use his talent for our side during the cold war. Perhaps he should have been greatful for that alone, but I believe he wished for much more.
When he was finally awarded a great civilian medal for his technical and managerial accomplishments (by President Carter), the man who received this hard won gesture was a fragment of his former self. He was described by friends as a "skelton wrapped in skin" while enduring relentless pain under the equivalent of hospice care. Of course, camp workers were denied anything like hospital care, but I really feel he paid the ultimate price we all must, and with what I believe was a heavy heart. He must have understood full well that he was never forgiven for his early work and probably never would be. He ultimately suffered a painful and protracted death of cancer.
As an individual inspired by von Braun's accomplishments I think he made as great an impact on the history of space and rocket research as one person could possibly accomplish. He had a grand vision of man's future in space, and shared that vision with all of us brilliantly. We were made a part of his dream and I believe the country remembers how special those days were as we closed in on the moon. The price he was willing to pay to accomplish his personal goals for that future supported war efforts in two countries and pushed the barriers of technology. That, in part, is the reason the author calls him the Faust of 20th century. He is acknowledged by everyone to have been a compelling public speaker, a talented engineer and an excellent manager, but I think he was also a very great American.
Nice overview of the development of rocketry in the military and NASA.. warts and all.
Neufeld's "Faustian bargain" theme is hammered home to a truly absurd degree, where he really seems to expect von Braun (and every other German citizen?) to have risked death and imprisonment rather than engage in any collaboration with the military authorities. Neufeld is of course quite right to mention the important issue of von Braun's collaboration with the Nazi party, but such an excessive focus is not needed. Related to this, the relatively straightforward cultural conservatism of von Braun is treated as just one tiny step removed from the Holocaust, which is obviously not the case; in general, Neufeld takes a patronizing and condescending tone to von Braun, who (ironically enough) comes across as being quite a bit more subtle than Neufeld gives him credit for (in the lengthy quotations from von Braun's letters).
Another flaw is the lack of a wider context; Neufeld follows von Braun a little too closely, as it were, and very rarely widens the scope of his narrative ... we learn almost nothing about the wider history of rocketry (apart from passing mention of Goddard and others), the military/political context of the missile/space program in the U.S. from 1945 to 1960 (apart from perfunctory one-sentence summaries of the Korean War and similar events), etc.