Shawn Kupfer's Reviews > The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
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's review
Jan 21, 2011

really liked it

When I was a kid (thanks to my attendance at several military-funded elementary schools), I had the opportunity to meet Alan Shepard. I got to try on John Glenn’s spacesuit. I knew who these guys were in the second grade, but I never really knew the full story behind America’s first forays into space until I read “The Right Stuff” several years ago.

Wolfe takes us through the inception and development of the United States Space program, and into the lives of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and their families (as well as the astronaut candidates who didn’t make the initial cut, though some of them would later become astronauts in their own right). What sets “The Right Stuff” apart from other nonfiction books, though, is Wolfe’s style.

He treats the principals in the story as characters, and the events have a narrative quality that could only come from a third-person omniscient point of view. The whole thing comes off feeling less like an accounting of history and more like a novel — a gripping, well-written novel. The result — more than likely not 100% historically accurate, but entertaining and engaging as all hell.

You’d think this would mean I enjoy Tom Wolfe’s fiction, but I tried to get into “I Am Charlotte Simmons” and got bored about a chapter in. I still need to expand my Wolfe library (I’ve only read this and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” which was fine), but I can recommend this one without hesitation to space nerds (me), aviation geeks (also me), and anyone who enjoys a good story (most likely you, if you’ve bothered to read this far).

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