All Up: Odyssey of the Rocketmen by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wernher von Braun gave President Kennedy a tour of his rocket assembly plant in Alabama. A few years earlier, he had given the same tour to President Eisenhower. Remarkably, several years earlier, he gave a tour of his rocket assembly plant to Adolph Hitler at a place called Peenemünde. This extraordinary book tells the history of rocketry and spaceflight as historical fiction. It covers the pioneers of rocketry from Germany, the United States, and Russia who were inspired by the likes of Jules Verne to fly into outer space. The characters had one passion in common, but the means to achieve it were as varied as the origins of the players. Jack Parsons, a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was a Satanist. Wernher von Braun catered to Hitler’s plans to destroy Britain to fund his research. The Russian, Korolev, nearly died in the Gulag before becoming chief designer of the Soviets’ rocket program. As the science inched forward, Walt Disney, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanley Kubrick replaced Jules Verne as the inspirational forces that kept the public spending to put a man on the moon, and to keep the public ignorant of the alien bases already there.
All Up is unique in several ways. Although it reads like pure history, it deviates into some rather fanciful realms. Mr. Rinzler has done an enormous amount of research and compiled it into an enormous book. All Up exceeds 210,000 words. The depth of the coverage of the topic is profound. This is a very descriptive book—sometimes excessively. The endless description of people smoking did get tiresome and its omission might have cut twenty thousand words. I realize it was a sign of the times, but the modern reader might prefer to ignore it. The characters, and there are many of them, are amazingly well developed. The author shows prodigious skill in maintaining continuity in his characters throughout the great length of the story. The episode dealing with Apollo 11 was extraordinarily well done. Despite being certain of the outcome, it had me on the edge of my chair. I have to say frankly, the book should have ended there. The wrap-up after the moon landing was a little anticlimactic, although relatively brief. The other unconventional aspect of All Up is its complete disregard for that bugbear of editors, viewpoint. There are myriad viewpoints in this book. Having candidly revealed my issues with it, I enjoyed it very much, obviously, or I would never have waded through nine hundred pages.
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