Rob's Reviews > First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

First Man by James R. Hansen
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's review
Apr 21, 07

bookshelves: apollo, biography, 2007
Recommended for: Serious devotees of the American manned spaceflight program
Read in April, 2007

Biographies usually hold no interest for me, but this one is worth reading, mostly for the account of Armstrong's relatively unknown life before entering the astronaut corps, as an engineer, Korean War fighter pilot and test pilot, replete with hair-raising combat missions and dramatic test flights of a number of rocket-propelled aircraft to the edge of space. Reading this book, the only officially sanctioned biography of Neil Armstrong, I gained considerable appreciation for why NASA took care to hire hotshot test pilots as the first astronauts.

At times, Hansen goes into painstaking detail about minor issues. The biography would not have suffered without a listing every grade Armstrong received at Purdue, for instance, or the score from every one of Neil's flights during Navy air training; but in the author's defense, one can hardly fill 750 pages without dipping into the trivia barrel now and then. I definitely could have done without the frequent appearance of Neil's mother, Viola, yammering on with glassy eyes about God's intimate involvement in every facet of the family's existence—except insofar as it suggests, by direct contrast to Neil himself, that the First Man was a closet agnostic.

I would not recommend Hansen's biography to someone who wants to read primarily about Apollo 11, as that is covered much more thoroughly elsewhere, with more balanced coverage of all aspects of the mission.
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