The Right Stuff
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The Right Stuff

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  22,803 ratings  ·  621 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...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Bantam (first published 1979)
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Richard
Jan 22, 2008 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Elizabeth K.
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
Josh
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 5 of 5 stars
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
Graeme Hinde
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
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...more
Traci
Sep 01, 2008 Traci rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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, ast...more
Stephen
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
Michael Burnam-fink
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
Dave
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
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
Lennie
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
Shivani
"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...more
Mike
"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...more
Eric
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
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
Neyly
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...more
Steven
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...more
Rscarff
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
Steven Peterson
A literate and fascinating examination of the seven original astronauts. The book takes us through the early years of the space program, the sometimes quirky personalities of the astronauts, the role of Chuck Yeager (I am still bemused by Wolfe's claims that pilots mimic Yeager's drawl), the harsh reality of life as an astronaut. There are poignant anecdotes, such as John Glenn's effort to protect his wife's privacy. The movie actually captures some of the essence of the book, althopugh it is sa...more
Rich Gamble
Aug 19, 2013 Rich Gamble rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Rich by: Art
It took a lot of effort to get into this as I have a notoriously short attention span when it comes to space travel. Destination Moon was my least favourite Tintin ever! This book has been to Hong Kong, Korea, Melbourne & more all barely touched but with a bit of patience it all made sense. I was here for Wolfe and he does deliver, managing to get even yours truly excited about the Mercury astronauts. To be honest I’d never even thought of the people who went into space before the moon landi...more
Max
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...more
Richard Knight
This is the third book I've read by Tom Wolfe, and it was stupendous! It was ground-breaking! A real treat! (Okay, I'll stop with the exclamation points now. I'm no Tom Wolfe, after all). After having read "The Bonfire of the Vanities," which was fiction, and the "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," which was non-fiction, I was a bit wary to read "The Right Stuff" since I wasn't too fond of the latter book. It was too spacy and disconnected for my liking. But after having read "The Right Stuff," I...more
Nick
This was a very disappointing read.
I really found Wolfe's style annoying. There were pages of boring irrelevant nonsense, for example, the stories about flight in the initial chapters was largely irrelevant, added little to the narrative and felt like wading through treacle. Later in the book Wolfe describes a barbecue party for the astronauts and their family in Houston; really, really boring and totally unnecessary.
A further complaint is that Wolfe's text can be so repetitive. He's always har...more
Matthew Clark
This is one of my favorite books. I've read it 3 times now and after a few years I've picked it up again. Since being published more information has come out about the Mercury program regarding Liberty 7 Gus Grissom's flight on if he blew the hatch or not, like anything new information comes out its up to you to decide. Only one person knows and he said he didn't....ill believe that. Wolfe turn of phrase and his command of language is stellar. I never tire of reading it.
Ed Hogan
I am a space junkie, but had never read this book. I loved the subject matter, the insight, getting a sense of the test pilot world and seeing the camaraderie that influenced the Mercury mission. Although I found this to be entertainingly well-written, there is one element that sticks in my craw: Tom Wolfe likes exclamation points! A lot! It might be a crutch! Or a stylistic choice! But it is annoying!
Jason
This book gave a great portrait into the life of a fighter pilot. The tone of the book seemed to give the reader an insider look into this flying fraternity.

Although the character description was good, the book was pretty slow in the middle. Nothing really happens...the fighter pilots are waiting to see if they will go into space and the reader is left waiting for action as well.
Renee
I didn't like this book. Picked it up because it's the "One Book, One Chicago" pick. I really disliked the style of writing. He is writing non-fiction but does so in this joking, conversational style with works against the topic of men who choose to be test pilots and risk their lives on a daily basis. I kept reading because I wanted to see how it turned out and it wasn't worth it!
Todd
Overall, an interesting portrayal of the test pilot and early astronaut program in the late 1950s and early 1960. Wolfe provides an easy-to-read narrative that really gives the reader a feel for the life of the pilots/astronauts and their wives, as well as the atmosphere in the country during this key period of the Cold War. I was pleasantly surprised by how much Wolfe focused on the wives, as well as what a good job he did portraying the military culture. He presents the thoughts and emotions o...more
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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...more
More about Tom Wolfe...
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test The Bonfire of the Vanities I am Charlotte Simmons A Man in Full Back to Blood

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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.)” 0 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.” 0 likes
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