There is a whole series of at least 50 "The Way People Live" books, and if they are anything like this one, I'm hunting them all down! "Life Among the...moreThere is a whole series of at least 50 "The Way People Live" books, and if they are anything like this one, I'm hunting them all down! "Life Among the Pirates" - check. "Life in Ancient Athens" - check. "Life in Genghis Khan's Mongolia" - yup.
This book is more than "just the facts, ma'am" - though it certainly makes tons of facts accessible and fun to read. I learned more about space travel from this little 100 page book than from several other massive accounts combined. No other book discussed what exactly happens to a body unprotected in the vacuum of space -yikes - or that precautions must be made to avoid the influence of gamma rays and X rays in space. Or reminded me that the stars do not twinkle in space. How bold they must be, without any atmosphere between us and them!
There's a section every kid must dream of at some point: "How To Become A Shuttle Astronaut" (something like 35 selected out of 8000 applicants) and once you've become an astronaut candidate ("Ascan" - rhymes with Ass-can, on purpose) you have to follow the Ascan's 10 Commandments: 1. Keep smiling, but not grinning. 2. Keep your humor harmless, pure and perfect. People don't understand irony. 4. Never complain; make survival look easy 8. Be aggressively humble and dynamically inconspicuous. Save your brilliance for your friends and family... and so on.
There are many personal details that made me grimace and smile and gasp. Such as some fascinating and a bit grotesque issues with the body in weightlessness (even digestions is effected - your food will float in your stomach making it much harder to digest). What happens to your sweat when you are exercising (ew). And issues with sneezing and belching and pooping - hilarious. Why it's hard to make a peanut butter sandwich for yourself in space without help. A peculiar unexplained physical response nicknamed "space crud" and the mystery of unexplained flashes of light that astronauts appear to see when the crew compartment is darkened during sleep periods.
Packed with well-explained technical details that make me feel like an expert now: that the shuttle astronauts actually experience "microgravity" rather than true freedom from gravity.
And okay, duh, this I SHOULD have known, because we've all seen pictures of the shuttles flying piggy back on other planes, but they only have engines for space flight and are not equipped to fly under their own power in the atmosphere. They are basically giant gliders!!! No room for error when landing, which is awe-inspiring considering how fast they enter the atmosphere - having to slow down from their orbiting speed of over 17,000 miles per hour! They land at 200 mph, quite a bit faster than regular airplanes, requiring a much longer runway. The astronauts require about 30-40 minutes after landing to be able to walk again and disembark, it takes that long for their bodies to get accustomed to gravity again.
I couldn't put it down; every glossy page was full color with photos, diagrams and sidebars, and prose that didn't overwhelm with either technical or...moreI couldn't put it down; every glossy page was full color with photos, diagrams and sidebars, and prose that didn't overwhelm with either technical or political details.
The only thing I wished for was more personal insight from the people actually involved - engineers, mission control, astronauts.
But the book was superb at "framing" the entire Apollo program, such as this example:
The Saturn V [largest rocket ever made, to this day] would become the greatest pinnacle of rocket design ever achieved and an achievement ranking among the wonders of time, along with Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. When the Greek historian Herodotus visited the Great Pyramid in 430 BC, he asked the locals how many people it had taken to build the legendary structure. "Four hundred thousand," they told him, working over 10 years, an almost inconceivable labor force to be organized toward one construction goal. When NASA took a count of the Americans working on the Moon program during the decade of the 1960's, they discovered a starling coincidence. Almost five millenia after the Great Pyramid was brought to pass, a new wonder would be formed by the same number of hands.
The book does a tremendous job not only describing the scale of the 363 foot tall rocket (of which only 10 ft would actually return to earth) - but also blows your mind with the scale of the facilities required to assemble and move such a monstrosity. I wonder if you can still see the leviathan crawlers that moved it to its launch pad? The two crawlers (NASA always build backups) are the largest land vehicles in the world.
This was my favorite excerpt, about Apollo 8, the first orbit around the moon:
After Apollo 8, the world would never again see itself from the same perspective. We could no longer pretend that our world was without limits; we would see that we were an island paradise in the vast cold void of space. The image of the earthrise communicated this perspective in a language that transcended cultural difference. As Bill Anders later shared with the space historian Andrew Chaikin, we had come all this way to study the Moon, and what we discovered was the Earth.
Everyone knows Neil Armstrong's famous words when he first set foot on the moon, but I had never heard the transcript of the astronauts on Apollo 8, on Christmas Eve (broadcast around the world), just before they lost communication with earth while passing behind the moon. They took turns quoting the first 10 verses of the Bible, Genesis 1:10. (less)
I read this as research for the science fiction book I'm writing, which includes a space shuttle and space travel. This book provided some of what I n...moreI read this as research for the science fiction book I'm writing, which includes a space shuttle and space travel. This book provided some of what I needed - a detailed account of the experience of taking off in a shuttle, reaching over mach 24 (17,000 miles per hour) and 3 G's, achieving orbit and weightlessness, the mechanics of free-fall, and the furnace of re-entry into the atmosphere. I had not realized just how fast orbit is. Tom's first orbit was at 120 nautical miles above earth's surface (on his last trip, docking with the space station, they were 250 miles up). But at 120 miles up, the orbiter would complete an entire orbit around the earth every 90 minutes. This meant their "days" were 45 minutes long, followed by 45 minutes of night!
The book also provided a lot of other fascinating details about astronaut training and overview of some of the research and the data collection the astronauts performed. Tom Jones was one of the space-walkers responsible for fitting together the different components of the International Space Station, and his description of this painstaking work is a real eye-opener. For every hour spent outside the shuttle performing tasks, they spent 12 hours in a giant swimming pool practicing. This book really brings home the less glamorous side of astronaut training. The checklists, the repetition, the delays, the stress on the families, and the waiting - always the waiting.
The book also spends a couple chapters discussing time leading up to and following the two shuttle disasters.
Unfortunately, between all the great stuff in this book, there was were also pages and pages of bureaucratic details, especially pertaining to all the complications involved trying to work with Russia on the International Space Station. There wasn't anything even culturally or politically interesting here... just a lot of maneuvering and red-tape. I think I skimmed about 1/4 of the total pages.
Surprisingly, my favorite part of the book wasn't the exciting countdowns and takeoffs and dramatic re-entries. It was Jones' beautiful descriptions of Earth. Whenever they had a chance, the astronauts would just stare out of the windows at the swiftly-moving scenery below them, trying to pick out familiar landmarks. Here's one of my favorite descriptions (though I could have just as easily picked from two dozen other amazing descriptions):
We had a great aurora pass in far South Pacific, south of New Zealand. At times were flying right through the long, thin streams of the aurora, projecting straight up through the atmosphere, a very ghostly pale yellow green.. so we could see these long streams going up above us, but at times we flew right over the long simmering arcs of the aurora. We could see the shimmering curtain below us, and when we flew over the top of it, it would become edge-on to us, and we could look straight down on this line of the aurora - a fantastic ghostly sight.
Now I need to find a book about the Apollo missions to the moon, to find out more about non-orbital space travel. For thirty years the shuttles operated solely as orbiters, circling the earth. The last American shuttle returned to earth on July 11, 2011. The NASA website says "NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars." I can't wait!(less)
I picked this book up for research about Greece; I soon discovered I couldn't put it down. This is no mere travelogue. Fermor is part anthropologist,...moreI picked this book up for research about Greece; I soon discovered I couldn't put it down. This is no mere travelogue. Fermor is part anthropologist, part linguist, and part poet. The way he describes the nomadic shepherds of the mountains of Greece (I did not know such people even existed!) is so well done I feel as if I'm still hearing their chants and the rhythmic stomp of their dances, still shivering from their superstitions (this is Greek mythology you probably haven't encountered before!)
I will definitely be picking up more books by this author; there are three more and wish there were more. (less)
Written by a volunteer who worked with Mother Theresa and her sisters for several months in Calcutta. Superb. You cannot read this and come away uncha...moreWritten by a volunteer who worked with Mother Theresa and her sisters for several months in Calcutta. Superb. You cannot read this and come away unchanged.
"She came to believe in her later years that the most devastating disease of humanity was not illness, hunger or poverty, but loneliness and the sense of being unloved that she encountered in people all over the world." (less)
One of those rare cases where the book and the movie were both equally excellent, but in different ways. The movie did a wonderful job of integrating...moreOne of those rare cases where the book and the movie were both equally excellent, but in different ways. The movie did a wonderful job of integrating the story into the times - the Depression Era. The book focused less on the times and more on the characters. Hillenbrand did a wonderful job bringing to life the stories of Charles Howard, Tom Smith, and Red Pollard (owner, trainer and jockey) in a narrative style every bit as gripping as the best of fiction.
In June 1936 Smith arrived in Massachusetts. He traveled from track to track, looking at hundreds of cheap horses, but he couldn't find the one he sought. On the sweltering afternoon of June 29, at Boston's Suffolk Downs, the horse found him.
Both the book and the movie did a superb job with Seabiscuit himself. I loved that this horse had such a rough start, being completely misunderstood. The moral of this book is if someone believes in you and backs you, you can overcome anything.
An unexpected bonus with this book is the author's notes at the end, on all the sources she discovered (including interviews with surviving eye-witnesses to Seabiscuit's races - they are all dead now) and the some of the funny crazy ways she discovered a lot of the facts. The book also includes an interview with the author which is a whole other story in itself. Hillenbrand was struck with a severe and debilitating case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome during college, which continued to plague her throughout the research and writing of the book.
As difficult as the illness made the writing and research process, I think I also have it to thank for spurring me into the project. Being sick has truncated my life dramatically, drastically narrowing the possibilities for me. For fifteeen years, I have had very little contact with the world. The illness has left me very few avenues for achievement, or for connecting with people. Writing is my salvation, the one little area of my life where I can still reach out into the world and create something that will remain after I am gone. It enables me to define myself as writer instead of as a sick person.
After reading the story of Seabiscuit, and then discovering Hillenbrand's own story, I am eager to read her next non-fiction book, Unbroken.(less)