Dallas author James Donovan tells the story of man landing on the moon 50 years ago in his thoroughly-researched and well-written 392-page account, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 (Little, Brown and Company, $30 hardcover).
Donovan, who has written best-selling history titles about the Alamo (The Blood of Heroes) and George Custer (Terrible Glory), traces the space race from Russia launching the first satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957 to Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, at 9:56 p.m. Houston time.
“That’s one small step for man…” he said for the whole world to hear, “one giant leap for mankind.”
Actually, Donovan writes, Armstrong had meant to say “one small step for a man,” but “he either forgot or misspoke. In any case his statement would be praised for its elegance and criticized for its blandness.
“All over the world,” Donovan notes, “people stopped what they were doing and watched the images from space, vicariously experiencing the adventure.”
It had been a long time coming. The U.S. found itself playing catch-up to the Soviet Union from the beginning, taken by surprise at Sputnik’s stunning success and watching with alarm as the Russians dominated the early years of space exploration while early U.S. efforts floundered.
Donovan tells the stories not only of the early U.S. astronauts, who became national heroes, but also the engineers, technicians, scientists who worked feverishly behind the scenes to launch them into space and, especially, to bring them home safely from their missions.
Besides Armstrong, the Apollo 11 crew included Buzz Aldrin, who aggressively and unsuccessfully campaigned to be the first man to set foot on the moon, and the more laid-back command module pilot Mike Collins.
“This is the best book on Apollo that I have read,” Collins is quoted. “Extensively researched and meticulously accurate, it successfully traces not only the technical highlights of the program but also the contributions of the extraordinary people who made it possible.”
‘Giant’ in Paperback
Austin author Don Graham’s excellent take on the iconic Texas movie Giant is now available in paperback.
The book’s full title is Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, which is a mouthful (St. Martin’s, $18.99).
And the title leaves out the most significant figure in the filming — director George Stevens. It was his movie in nearly every aspect, as Graham makes clear throughout the book.
Graham delves into the stories behind the scenes, including the actors and actresses who were considered, even preferred, for some of the leading parts but either turned them down or were rejected by Stevens. Ultimately, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean were tapped for the principal roles. The movie was released with great fanfare in 1956, but Dean had already died in a car wreck the year before, after filming ended.
I read the hardcover edition last year, then checked out the movie Giant from the library and enjoyed it more than ever. Graham calls it “the national film of Texas,” and he certainly makes the case for it.
Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at email@example.com.