I've read this book a number of times back when I was a kid (in a Russian translation), and suddenly I felt like rereading it in the original. The boo...moreI've read this book a number of times back when I was a kid (in a Russian translation), and suddenly I felt like rereading it in the original. The book was as good (and better) than I remembered it to be. The characters are bigger in life (at least some of them), the descriptions are colourful and rich, and the historical details are, if not absolutely true (I am no expert), ring true to my ear. An excellent book.(less)
I've read this book out of desperation, trying to hold off and not rereading the O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin saga for the umptieth time in a row. I was s...moreI've read this book out of desperation, trying to hold off and not rereading the O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin saga for the umptieth time in a row. I was sadly disappointed. There is a huge gap in the writing quality. The cardboard characters keep snarling and growling at each other, many times the characters are just empty shells through which historical events are depicted, and the abundance of historical characters and freedom with which the author makes them talk and act (as opposed to O'Brian, who is very cautious not to push real historical figures to the front) seems distasteful to me. The narrative is lively though, so I keep reading, despite the desperation from the style.(less)
The author is a highly decorated Soviet weapons designer, having designed, among other things, the cannon carried by the most successful tank of all t...moreThe author is a highly decorated Soviet weapons designer, having designed, among other things, the cannon carried by the most successful tank of all times - the T-34, and several of the field artillery pieces used most extensively by the Red Army during the WW2. His book is a tale of technical and organizational challenges successfully overcome by the author and his team, but also one of an uphill struggle with people who objected to his methods of work and his views on the future of artillery (i.e., the wrongdoers). The book, even though full with artillery jargon (almost never explained) and of the period-relevant discussions in the context of the role of the party (meaning - the communist party) in all aspects of life, and even despite the periodic relapses of the author into the tenets of the Soviet ideology (Finns are the ones who started the Winter War according to Grabin), is nevertheless a fascinating read, of interest both to hardcore weapons buffs and to technical geeks, interested in learning about how one creates a highly successful design and implementation operation from thin air, despite strong resistance from the superiors and, sometimes, from one's peers (reminiscent to the similar feats in the modern corporate environment).(less)
A very deep and interesting history of the first stages of the Soviet rocket program, from inception, through the foraging in the recently conquered G...moreA very deep and interesting history of the first stages of the Soviet rocket program, from inception, through the foraging in the recently conquered Germany, and up to the development of R-7, later known as the Sputnik rocket. After reading both this book and "Red Moon Rising" by Matthew Brzezinski, it is apparent that the latter used Chertok's work extensively in the part dedicated to the Soviet developments, quoting whole paragraphs at times. The book value lies in several facets. First, it provides a detailed overview of the history of the Soviet rocket program. Second, it examines in details the relations between the Soviet and the German programs (and there are quite a few surprises for the uninitialized there). Next, it examines another aspect of the Soviet history of the relevant period: that of purges and forced labor: many of the constructors of the Soviet rocket program where sentenced to many years of labor camps, and survived by the skin of their teeth. And last, but not least, Chertok discusses the design, implementation and testing of complex systems - probably the most complex systems developed by the humanity up to that time. His lessons remain relevant even up to this day. There is quite a lot of bureaucratic gobbledygook and (rather irrelevant and uninteresting) details of various reorganizations within the rocket-related structures, so the book may have been made much shorter and easier to read, but still, a fascinating read. (less)
An intriguing overview of the beginnings of the space age, both in USSR and the US. The US might have been the first into space (with Von Braun's help...moreAn intriguing overview of the beginnings of the space age, both in USSR and the US. The US might have been the first into space (with Von Braun's help) wouldn't it be for the Eisenhower's administration mismanagement of the rivaling rocket efforts in the USAF, army and navy. The USSR's success, however, was also a fruit of a number of circumstances (among them - Korolev's inability to solve the problem of reentry of the warhead of an ICBM) rather than that of careful planning.
The book has some shortcomings however, among them - somewhat artificial dramatizations as well as lack of technical details (as compared, for example, with Richard Rhodes' trilogy on the nuclear weapons) with the focus being mostly on the "political" history of the space age initiation. The book's scope is also limited by the first satellites, and stops short of detailing the manned flight, not to mention the shot for the moon.(less)
An intriguing book, describing many of the events I've witnessed as a kid growing up in Moscow back in the 80s. While Rhodes makes an honest attempt a...moreAn intriguing book, describing many of the events I've witnessed as a kid growing up in Moscow back in the 80s. While Rhodes makes an honest attempt at neutrality, I would cautiously claim, that his account is somewhat lopsided, depicting the Soviet leaders as either enterprising and brave (in the case of Gorbachev) or as passive and led along into the arms race by the Americans (in the case of his predecessors). Almost all of the malignancy and self-interest is left to the American leadership (except Reagan, who is, instead, dolled out a measure of naivety and stubbornness). The Gorbachev-Reagan conversations are covered in depth, but Reagan's advisers for the most part are shown as naysayers failing the talks once and again out of sheer bloody-mindedness, disregarding (or, at most, listing as pretexts) some very real reasons not to trust the Soviet proposals: the Soviet track record with breaking its promises, with disregarding human rights of its own citizens and sovereignty of other countries.(less)
A well written, well researched summary of the Soviet efforts toward the A-bomb (including an excruciatingly-detailed review of the Soviet spying acti...moreA well written, well researched summary of the Soviet efforts toward the A-bomb (including an excruciatingly-detailed review of the Soviet spying activities in the US) and the US and Soviet efforts towards the H-bomb. (less)
An important and interesting book, in which the author meticulously and rigorously dispels the myth of the "peaceful savage", popular among some histo...moreAn important and interesting book, in which the author meticulously and rigorously dispels the myth of the "peaceful savage", popular among some historians and anthropologists. People of the non-state society were as likely to go to war ones against the other as are the modern states, and their wars were as savage and as full of victims as the modern wars, fought with sophisticated weapons by well trained soldiers.(less)
The author keeps referring to the Edward Gibbon's classic (and, in fact, mentions it extensively throughout the book), but I'd say he takes more pages...moreThe author keeps referring to the Edward Gibbon's classic (and, in fact, mentions it extensively throughout the book), but I'd say he takes more pages out of Suetonius, with too much emphasis being put on amusing (but sometimes denigrating) anecdotes from the lives of the leading historical figures, to the detriment of the narrative. We don't really need to hear Churchill was a heavy drinker - that's beyond the point, really (as are the antiques of Sir Wingate, and many more prominent politicians). On top of that, on many occasions, the author sells individual (or very rare) occurrences for a habit, a widespread phenomenon, producing an entirely inadequate impression regarding the phenomenon being described (that was quite evident while reading the history of Israel and of the Suez crisis, with which I'm somewhat familiar). Having said that, this rather thick book is written well, and reads well. (less)
A fascinating first hand account of the British scientific intelligence during the WWII written by Dr. R.V.Jones, who headed the British scientific in...moreA fascinating first hand account of the British scientific intelligence during the WWII written by Dr. R.V.Jones, who headed the British scientific intelligence efforts throughout the war. Sheds a whole new light on the events I've recently read about in W. Churchill's memoirs. Also dispels some of the myths I thought to be facts, such as that Churchill knew about the impending bombardment of Coventry, but did nothing about it in order not to reveal the fact that the British succeeded in breaking the Enigma.
One of the recurring themes of the book, unfortunately, is how inefficient any organization becomes, even if it has a core of hard working knowledgeable people - when it is influenced by egotistic, political or bureaucratic considerations.(less)
407 pages into the book (out of 700-some): this is surely a fascinating read, and on the plus side the handling of the physics is much more in-depth t...more407 pages into the book (out of 700-some): this is surely a fascinating read, and on the plus side the handling of the physics is much more in-depth than one would expect from a basically historical narrative aimed at a wide audience. There are, however, several points that make the reading not as enjoyable as it would be otherwise: - Small historical errors and inconsistencies. The Reichstag was not burned by the SA (but rather by a psychically unstable Dutch communist Marinus Vanderlubbe). Neville Chamberlain did not announce his short-lived "peace in our time" from a balcony of his residence - but rather on a landing strip having just disembarked from his flight from Munich. Panzer tanks is a tautology, and Polish cavalry charging German tanks - an urban legend. If Kistiakowsky has volunteered for the White Army, he must have fought in the Russian Civil War, not in the Russian Revolution (and I wonder what the author means by a "flat Slavic face" - having lived for 15 years in Russia, I haven't noticed any particular flatness to the facial features of the population there). Roosevelt did not instigate the Congress to declare war on Germany and Italy - rather those declared war on the US following the Pearl Harbor attack. These are minor points on the (abundant) side tracks of the story, but one wonders whether similar errors have not crept into the main story. - Repetitive and mind numbing descriptions of every single new character (out of hundreds) that shows up on the stage (the flat Slavic face is just one example out of many). Every single person mentioned gets a cliche description concerning his facial features, character peculiarity, genealogy, favorite musical instrument or whatnot. Even the turn of the phrase is similar in all these cases, which makes the text similar in style to a crime column in a newspaper. - The amount of irrelevant details, and unwarranted generalizations and pop psychology (such as the derivations of the kind of scientific work a person does from the books he has read in his childhood). My understanding is that this was a compromise towards the less scientifically inclined reader, who would skip through all the physics, and will need something else to keep focused. Nevertheless, this reduces somewhat from author's credibility.(less)