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The Right Stuff

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  30,214 Ratings  ·  805 Reviews
When the future began...

The men had it. Yeager. Conrad. Grissom. Glenn. Heroes ... the first Americans in space ... battling the Russians for control of the heavens ... putting their lives on the line.

The women had it. While Mr. Wonderful was aloft, it tore your heart out that the Hero's Wife, down on the ground, had to perform with the whole world watching ... the TV Pres
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Bantam (first published 1979)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 22, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Space Buffs, Aviation Buffs, Cold War Buffs, Dudes in General
This would have been a superb book but for Wolfe's puzzling decision to libel astronaut Gus Grissom. Sadly, between the book and its movie adaptation, Wolfe's distortions are probably all that most people know about Grissom (assuming of course that they remember any astronaut other than Neil Armstrong in the first place).

Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and the second to go into space. After his capsule splashed down, its hatch blew before the recovery helicopter arrived
Glenn Sumi
Yee-hawwww!!! Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about the American space race is a high-octane non-fiction masterpiece.

Wolfe's maximalist style – full of exclamation marks!!! ... ellipses ... and repeated italicized phrases that take on the rhythm of great jazz – is perfectly suited to his gargantuan, ego-driven, patriotic, rah-rah subject matter.

He has a voice like no one else's, and although he obviously did tons of research, he imparts his facts clearly and gets inside the heads of the scientists, astro
Elizabeth K.
Aug 02, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-new-reads
Good GRIEF, somebody please remind me about this the next time I think I will read a Tom Wolfe book. I seem to read one about every 15 years and in between I forget what an unpleasant experience I find it. I cannot! Take! The exclamation points! I'm one of those people who, constitutionally, cannot ignore an exclamation point on the printed page, so reading this was like being shouted at for great lengths of time. As everyone in the free world already knows, this is Tom Wolfe's book about the Me ...more
Graeme Hinde
Sep 07, 2007 Graeme Hinde rated it really liked it
This book genuinely gets the adrenaline pumping. There's a scene where Chuck Yeager takes an NF-104 up to 110,000 feet (about 10 miles into "space"), then looses control and goes into a spin, plummeting to 20,000 feet before regaining enough control to safely eject. Then the seat gets tangled in the parachute lines and spills corrosive fuel (why was there corrosive fuel in the chair?) on his face and hand. He fights through the intense pain of melting eyeball to free up the parachute and land sa ...more
Alain Dewitt
Oct 14, 2010 Alain Dewitt rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
While I am not a fan of Wolfe's writing style (wasn't that impressed with 'Bonfire of the Vanities' either) I do acknowledge that he is a keen observer and makes some astute observations about the space program and the country's relationship with it in the early days.

I have seen the movie many times - and enjoy it, probably more than the book - but reading the book I found that an important part of the narrative had been grossly underplayed in the movie. In the movie, it's implied but not very f
Jul 28, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff, that Righteous, Righteous stuff, the Indefinable, Unutterable, Integral Stuff.

Test pilots have The Right Stuff. Astronauts have The Right Stuff. Thus Tom Wolfe pulls us into Chuck Yeager's world in Muroc in the 1940's when the sound barrier is about to be broken and segues us into the original Seven - the chosen ones with the righteous, righteous stuff, the first men into space. (Never mind a monkey's gonna make the first flight! Never mind our rockets al
Mar 26, 2014 Josh rated it it was amazing
Way back in 1979, Tom Wolfe packaged together an exciting story about the initial fleeting moments of the space race, as well as a delightful sense of humor, within the two covers of a non-fiction book. But don’t let the narrative’s 33 year-old publishing fool you. The Right Stuff aged well, managing in this recent read to deliver relevant and insightful commentary about an intensely fascinating historical period amidst the Cold War. From Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern Cal ...more
John Wiswell
Jun 22, 2007 John Wiswell rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Literary readers, fans of non-fiction and biography, and readers who are jaded towards heroism
Easily one of the best books I've read this year, and one of those books I kick myself for having put off for so long. It possesses the very best of Wolfe; Kesey-like humor, Heller-like shrewdness and Steinbeck-like depth. Unlike so many biographical or journalistic books, it managed to make me feel for these people as well as inform me about them. He grabs the possibiltiy of their heroism and absoluteness of their cultural importance like the two horns of a bull, and wrestles the creature down ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Lennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shepard, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Carpenter, Schirra, and Slayton…these were the men chosen by NASA to be astronauts for Project Mercury, a program that put men into space for suborbital and orbital flights. They were called the “original seven” and they were considered the greatest pilots and the bravest men in America because they were pilots on the most daring flights in American history. When they accomplished their missions they became national heroes because they risked their lives for thei ...more
Mitch Albom
Nov 18, 2015 Mitch Albom rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love
I still defy anyone to read the first chapter, as Wolfe follows the path of a plane crash through the trees, and not be dazzled by his style.
Michael Burnam-fink
Nov 19, 2014 Michael Burnam-fink rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, 2014
No better book has been written about flying or the space race. Tom Wolfe has what it takes, the bubbling enthusiasm and critical eye, to write properly about astronauts. The Right Stuff is about endurance, guts, reflexes, a cool head, and giant titanium testicles. It's about going up day after day in high performance jets that are trying their level best to kill you-and statistically will kill 23% of pilots in peacetime-and pushing them to the edge of the envelope and beyond. It's about sitting ...more
Sep 01, 2008 Traci rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
9.1.08 I wish I could give half stars because then I would give this book four and half. I absolutely loved it, the half star deduction from five is only because I had a really hard time finishing the last 40 pages or so. They seemed to drag a little. Otherwise, this was a fantastic book. As I mentioned before, I really thought it would be dry (perhaps that was my issue with those stubborn last pages) but it wasn't. Tom Wolfe's narrative was funny and straightforward and I breezed through comple ...more
Oct 27, 2009 Stephen rated it liked it
Having just about got over I Am Charlotte Simmons, I wanted to remind myself why Tom Wolfe was once considered an important writer. And my faith was restored. While his style is still a little too jarring with its vernacular stylings, here it is put to good use. Wolfe does a brilliant job of conveying the culture of elite military pilots. Having established the fighter-jock spirit he shows how it was undermined in the early days of the space programme, and then how it was gradually restored so t ...more
Aug 23, 2013 Neyly rated it liked it
Content - really good, informative without boring the reader. But ... oh, the writing ... I got so I couldn't stand the plethora, the multitude, the excessive amount of hyperbole, of italicized words/phrases, of exclamation points! Lest you think I exaggerate, I'll open the book to random pages:

p. 208 - two exclamatory sentences
p. 209 - one exclamatory sentence

p. 292 - two exclamatory sentences and two italicized phrases
p. 293 - one italicized word

p. 356 - two italicized phrases
p. 357 - eight ex
Jul 05, 2011 Rscarff rated it it was amazing
Always been somewhat fascinated by space travel, so this may be a little more in my wheelhouse than for others. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anybody. Whether the subject is the genesis of NASA and the Mercury Program, the individual sub-orbital and orbital missions, or broader discussion of the space race with the Soviet Union, the writing moves at a breakneck pace and captivated me from open to close. There is some especially great stuff about the dangers faced by th ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Scott rated it really liked it
The subject itself gives this book a lot of appeal- who doesn't want to read about fighter jocks of old battling and beating government bureaucracy? It makes one long for the days when a man could still drink a six pack of beer, put on his aviators, wink knowingly to his superior and climb competently into millions of dollars of bleeding edge government property. It's a special sort of recklessness that is easy to feel nostalgic for, the same sort of thing that we used to feel when we watched we ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Oct 11, 2015 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Finally got around to reading this...and it was fascinating. It's more journalism than dry history, but that's what lends it such charm and power. I wish that a few more of the key players in this drama (particularly a certain former Nazi rocket engineer), but it maintains its sharp focus on the idea of America's fleeting moment of single combat warriors from start to finish. It's a powerful snapshot of seven lives during a momentous time...and it leaves you wanting to know the ultimate fates of ...more
Apr 19, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I'd have only known of Tom Wolfe earlier.. Actually, I had, but I hadn't realized: I have watched The Right Stuff as a movie adaption on numerous occasions as a boy and a teenager - and simply loved it. I awed and dreaded the 'Speed Demon', who lived in the air, behind the speed of sound, and killed on so many occasions (watch the intro on Youtube, it's epic), and admired Chuck Yeager for his courage and manhood to challenge it with the X-1. Only years later, I picked up this book in my Dad's ...more
Mar 19, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it
Oh but for just a taste of that ever righteous stuff! Ever the cultural analyst, Tom Wolfe dives into a pretty fascinating era, the space race in the U.S. as the country entered the Cold War with Russia, and the corresponding characters / personality types in 'The Right Stuff'.

This book partially serves as a history of how the space program came to be in the U.S. I hadn't really studied this too closely so it was interesting to hear what drove the U.S. into creating its space program, with the
This is the story of America's first astronauts. The original seven men chosen to go into space. It starts out explaining what it was like to be a fighter pilot in the late 50 and discussed Yeager breaking the sound barrier and how the way he carried himself influenced other pilots. He had the right stuff. And to be a great pilot, you had to have the right stuff. Part of that included some level of contempt for death. Because you had a 23% chance of dying as a fighter pilot in some sort of accid ...more
May 28, 2014 Max rated it it was amazing
Why yes, most of the books on my shelves ARE 4 or 5-star books. I am quite picky about what I read. I know from a look at the inside jacket, as well as reading the first few lines, if I will like a book or not. This one? I read it at least once a year.

Technical, thorough, methodical and compassionate: this is how Tom Wolfe brings the history of the U.S. Space Program to us. Mr. Wolfe is a genius with fiction and he brings that same genius to writing about the manned space program from its beginn
Aug 06, 2014 Bookslut rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my God, I loved this book. It's so gigantic and so about the manliness of pilots that at first I didn't think I would be able to finish, especially because I shy away from nonfiction. But it was MAGNIFICENT! I couldn't put it down. I've ignored my children, the Olympics, important deadlines, all because I couldn't stop reading about the rockets. I haven't read a book in a long time that I just could not stand to put down, and I felt like I had to pry this book from my exhausted fingers late a ...more
Apr 19, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
My friend Ty is a big fan of both the movie and the book. When I happened to mention that I hadn't seen or read either, he was aghast. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and so he insisted I read the book. The stories themselves and the people involved are quite interesting, and make for compelling reading. Wolfe's style is a bit grating at times - he picks a few themes and then mentions them and points them out OVER and OVER ad nauseum, as if the reader might not be able to connect the dots withou ...more
Tom Gase
Dec 19, 2009 Tom Gase rated it really liked it
This is a very good book about the space race from 1957 to about 1964. It seems everyone knows who the first men on the moon were, but who were the first seven astronauts designated to go into space? Thomas Wolfe does a great job telling the courageous stories of those astronauts, along with the story of Chuck Yeager, who basically started it all. Wolfe does a great job telling how these men didn't panic in a tough situation, even though sometimes the situation may have called for a panic. I als ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Shivani rated it really liked it
"Breathtaking...epic...There are images and ideas in the Right Stuff that glisten like a rocket screaming to the heavens." - Los Angeles Times

The Right Stuff deals with test pilots who establish a sound barrier in space. This story is divided among the seven main astronauts, and the test pilot Chuck Yeager.
This is not only an inspiring tale of astronauts and test pilots, but also an extremely suspenseful story as well. Every second of the way, Tom Wolfe sparked readers' contemplation within the
Dec 25, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
"The Right Stuff" is a fantastic account of the Mercury astronaut program, but it's also a window into American culture in the early 1960s.

Tom Wolfe's writing is second to none, and the story unfolds like a good novel (though it factually covers a fascinating part of American history). The space program wasn't just about flying into space -- it was about the United States competing with the Soviets, Americans rallying around a new breed of "Single Combat Warriors" who enjoyed a form of celebrit
May 25, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it
Wolfe's story of the U.S. supersonic test flight and early space programs transports you back to a bygone American era when pilots were heroes, scientific advance seemed endless, and the quest for higher, faster, first ruled the news. To Wolfe's credit, he paints real portraits of these guys&mdashthey're drunks, adulterers, bad fathers, arrogant pricks—but ultimately, he loves them. They have it! They have the right stuff. Wolfe is a powerful writer. Reading about a test flight gone wrong as ...more
Amanda R
To paraphrase another reviewer, I feel like I gained something by reading this book, but the process was....well, not the most enjoyable reading experience I've ever had. It's great and interesting information and would be excellent if I were a fan of Tom Wolfe's idiosyncratic writing style, but I am emphatically not. Too! Many! Exclamation points! for one thing--and when he comes up with a phrase that he thinks is especially clever, he uses it at least once on every single page of the book. I c ...more
Rebecca Curtis
Hmmm. I have mixed feelings about this book. The subject matter, space exploration, is fascinating. The way it was written drove me crazy! Wolfe writes in a way that does not resonate with me at all. There was so much redundancy, way more swearing than I cared to read, and so many exclamation points it started to feel like I was being shouted at. (Fighter Jocks with the Right Stuff!!!!!) It felt like Wolfe's intent was to increase the suspense by dragging out every last detail before actually ge ...more
Apr 21, 2009 Steven rated it liked it
Tom Wolfe blazed an original trail, writing news as fiction. That and his powerful, poetic voice make this book worth reading. He plays with rhythm like a jazz musician. But the RIGHT STUFF tells a great story, nicely mixing adventure with research.

Being from Houston, I particularly liked the various anecdotal stories about the Houston of the 1960s--including the Astronaut parade ending at the old Sam Houston Coliseum (now home to Bar Houston and etc.). Best of all was the discussion of the gre
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  • A Man on the Moon
  • Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
  • Yeager: An Autobiography
  • Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond
  • Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon
  • Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey
  • The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space
  • We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves
  • First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
  • This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age
  • Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon
  • Moondust: In Search Of The Men Who Fell To Earth
  • "Live from Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
  • Of a Fire on the Moon
  • A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
  • Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race
  • John Glenn: A Memoir
  • Flight: My Life in Mission Control
Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
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“It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a central nervous system. In the late 1950's (as in the late 1970's) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone, should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole. In a later period this impulse of the animal would take the form of blazing indignation about corruption, abuses of power, and even minor ethical lapses, among public officials; here, in April of 1959, it took the form of a blazing patriotic passion for the seven test pilots who had volunteered to go into space. In either case, the animal's fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! One might regard this animal as the consummate hypocritical Victorian gent. Sentiments that one scarcely gives a second thought to in one's private life are nevertheless insisted upon in all public utterances. (And this grave gent lives on in excellent health.)” 3 likes
“In time, the Navy would compile statistics showing that for a career Navy pilot, i.e., one who intended to keep flying for twenty years... there was a 23 percent probability that he would die in an aircraft accident. This did not even include combat deaths, since the military did not classify death in combat as accidental.” 3 likes
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