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Breaking the Chains of Gravity

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  663 ratings  ·  91 reviews
NASA's history is a familiar story, culminating with the agency successfully landing men on the Moon in 1969. But NASA's prehistory is a rarely told tale, one that is largely absent from the popular space-age literature but that gives the context behind the lunar program. America's space agency wasn't created in a vacuum; it drew together some of the best minds the non-Sov ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Bloomsbury Sigma (first published October 22nd 2015)
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Gendou You will learn about the history of WWII and breaking the sound barrier. Mostly history; not a lot about the physics.

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Rachael Thomson
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
A few things really bothered me about this book, most notably the notion of culpability. Ms. Teitel spends a tremendous amount of time with one of the fathers of American rocketry, Wernher von Braun. She explains his membership in the Nazi party, and eventual joining of the SS. She explains that the V2 rockets built during WW2 by von Braun and his team were physically constructed by concentration camp detainees. She explains how von Braun was as scientist, focused on the problems of rocketry, an ...more
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
This book is a summary of the history of American (and German) rocketry up to the formation of NASA. Fascinating and well researched, with an enormous bibliography, this book is a good starting point to reading up on the history of space exploration.
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nasa
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

2.5 Stars

I was very excited when I discovered this book. I am a huge fan of the history of spaceflight, and I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the subject. I think the early years of spaceflight and rocket development are extremely cool and should have more written about them. These years usually get a chapter or two in other works before moving on to Project Mercury. A book dedicated t
Matt Heavner
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the U.S. efforts to get to space, pre-NASA. At the outset, the disclaimer of "for Goddard, look elsewhere" (to keep the book a reasonable length) was ok, but the counter was it felt to me like too much of this book focused around Von Braun. I can forgive this, because Von Braun is such a critical part of the story, but I felt like there should have been some space to Goddard, a bit less to Von Braun, and more to others. However, it was a really good history. I especially en ...more
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. I'm a huge fan of space exploration and am curious about those first steps we took towards the technology that got us to The Moon. But this book was too short and didn't go into detail much beyond anecdotes that one can find on Wikipedia. It was mostly about WWII and military aircraft.

There were some interesting facts about early rocketry but the focus was on the kinds of things you learn in history class; which men did various things for the first time on such
Vladimir Campos
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been following Amy Shira Teitel's YouTube Channel for a while and I love it. When she mentioned she was working on a book it was just a matter of waiting for the Kindle version. Got it as soon as it was available at Amazon.

The book starts narrating Von Braun's early life, then his relationship with the Nazi regime and finally the move to the US. Amy will then describe the Air Force attempts to break the sound barrier and by the end of the book you'll find out how these and other facts are l
Doctor Moss
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Treitel is a good story teller. She is neither dry and simply factual, nor does she pump up the drama. In fact, I think her biggest virtue is letting the actual figures in the story display their own personalities. Some of the figures, e.g., Wernher von Braun, John Stapp, and Scott Crossfield, truly have larger than life personalities, and she lets them have their air time.

I think she also does a good job of depicting the marriage between the military and the science side of the development of r
Brian Manville
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
Amy Shira Teitel has made a niche for herself in the science community through her Vintage Space YouTube page and twitter account (@atsvintagespace) discussing space-related topics. She took a very specialized area of study - science history - and created a means to share what she's found with her audience. One topic, even in the space nerd community that never gets a lot of discussion is the time period before the creation of NASA in 1958. It is this void that Ms. Teitel goes in search of the ( ...more
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Ms. Teitel is a space historian and producer of the popular YouTube channel Vintage Space, in which she presents short segments focusing on particular bits of space history. The subject matter of this book is fascinating, and not only because it is not as popular as the early NASA period from the formation of the agency to the end of the Apollo Program, which is documented and described in hundreds of books and documentaries. The story of the German rocketeers before and during World War II read ...more
Not a bad read certainly, yet still a bit of a disappointment. While there are lots of very interesting historical points presented, the whole thing felt very disjointed. The events chronicled are all pretty scattered until the last 25% or so of the book. Unfortunately, by that point the birth of NASA is only couple of years off and there is no logical connectivity to those disparate events occurring before that time. Undoubtedly the many research projects and tests described influenced the form ...more
Roger Neyman
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I own both the Kindle and the audio book.

For someone interested in the details of the history of the US space program, and its precursors in Germany, the book is the right place to go. It is thorough and articulately written.

So why the "It was OK" rating? I wanted this book to be more than a chronology. It's a very good and detailed chronology, but after a while the seemingly endless succession of projects, teams, design alternatives, political interventions, vested interests, and technical ch
Lewis Kelly
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Do you love reading about the RFP process? What about feuds between different service branches of the American military? If not, take my advice and give this book a pass. There are a few moments of interest, like when we read of the “Man High” balloon flights and the challenges of breaking the sound barrier. But on the whole this book is obsessed with the most trivial, uninteresting, and boring aspects of its subject. I wanted more on the scientific and design challenges that had to be addressed ...more
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Lots of information in this book about the years prior to the formation of NASA. She focused mostly on NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and delves into the history of the German V2 rocket and Werher von Braun. There's also good information on the X-15. I rather liked the book but it was spoiled by the lack of a good editor who would have reigned in her tendency to lengthy aka "run on" sentences. She also repeatedly referred NACA as "the NACA" which, while it may be correct Engl ...more
K De
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very good read on what happened before NASA with the ability of Germans who were interested in rocketry and space flight both manned and unmanned is the main focus of the book. Given that focus I think Amy Teitel writes clearly and with authority. The use of German scientists and engineers in jump starting the US space program is uncontestable but she does gloss over the ethical concerns with regard to the use of slave labor in the Nazi V rocket programs. I would say that it is the biggest fau ...more
William Tracy
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a good historical account of the steps going into the creation of the US space agency. The first third or so is largely concerned with the life of von Braun and the creation of rockets. I have a couple issues with skipping over the affect on Nazi prisoners during this time, and that lack of connection continues through the rest of the book. Although in the first part, we have von Braun as a character connection to the history, he's more on the back burner for the rest of the book, and l ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I won an Advance Reading Copy of Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA by Amy Shira Teitel in a Goodreads Giveaway. This is a History of Science work which chronicles the space race from the pre-space and rocket origins up to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. While being informative, the book is readable and enjoyable. I received an uncorrected proof but there were very few errors, which for this format is unexpected. I recommend t ...more
David Clifton
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating read! It was great fun to read while having access to Google or Wikipedia to look up references to people, scientific programs, or faster-than-sound aircraft.
I enjoyed learning about some of the "shakers and movers" in spaceflight development - Wernher von Braun and Dwight D. Eisnehower being the most obvious. I'm anxious to read biographies about both of them. John F. Kennedy may get credit for inspiring us to put a man on the moon, but without the foresight and leadership o
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was more or less fine. It was an interesting overview of rocketry before NASA, though I imagine not as in-depth as other books on the subject of most of the periods it actually covers. I'm not entirely convinced that this isn't a somewhat romanticized version of events - I am under the impression that a lot about the import of nazi scientists into America, for example, was sorta whitewashed in the post-WWII publicity about those guys and this book seems to follow the "they were good gu ...more
Adam Hendrix
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Definitely a great first step in learning about the events leading up to the creation of NASA. I learned a lot and now have a better foothold on what I should research next. The build up was sort of a let down though. I just wanted the narrative to keep going. But I guess that’s what made the book so enjoyable. Rather than tossing random facts out, it structured the events in a compelling way. I do felt some items were glossed over for the sake of the narrative...but this book wasn’t supposed to ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A straightforward history of early rocket research, from the dreaded German A4 of World War II, through the X-planes and unmanned rockets of the 1940s and 50s, to the creation of NASA. It wouldn't be fair to compare this work to the urgency and personality of 'The Right Stuff,' but this is a different kind of book. Amy Shira Teitel is a space historian, and this is a fine history of early space efforts. If anything, I would have liked a little more detail on the engineering challenges these pion ...more
Joe Seliske
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It was easy for me to be a space race geek because I was a youngster growing up at the time. Amy is everything I was and more and is having the experience fifty years later. She does a fine job. Whether it's the V-2 or the Saturn V Amy does an exquisite job at storytelling the history. The excitement that she shows in her Vintage Space videos is transferred to the pages of her book. (I was reading the text at an accelerated rate as if she was telling me the story.)
Joe Pinney
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a terrific book! Amy Shira Teitel is a wonderful writer who clearly has a deep respect and affection for space history. This history of the early developments in rocketry and spaceflight, both in Germany and the US prior to NASA’s founding, is very well researched and fairly easy to follow for the layperson. Teitel’s enthusiasm for the subject is always evident, with every page. A fun read and very educational!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Highly recommended!
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
If you're looking for a quick rundown of early western rocketry without it being too geeky, this book does an okay job of filling the bill. It's definitely more of a primer for "everyman" rather than a nerdfest. It's not really something one would likely go looking for unless already acquainted with the author's other outlets. At best it might trigger a desire to look into a particular person or project in more detail, if one already has a casual interest in the field.
Siva Kumar S A
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book tells the story of early american Space missions starting from their roots in German war efforts which helped them when the scientists emigrated to US after world war 2 to creation of NASA.

The book is interesting has lot of new things to know about, But at times feel like reading a research paper with too man names in every paragraph.

It seems for some reason the Author couldn't bring herself to say that USSR was the first to send a man in space.
David Atwell
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: empty-shelf-2020
This book reads like a script to one of Amy Shira Teitel's "Vintage Space" videos: information-dense, thoughtful, and (like the rocket men she biographies here) quite matter-of-fact and to-the-point. In short, it's awesome (though it may not be everyone's cup of tea). She does a remarkable job of laying the groundwork for Apollo without revealing any "spoilers," and while it could have done with being a bit more narrative, for a history book about rocket science it was quite an easy read.
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is well written, interesting, and its scope is exactly as described on the cover (Spaceflight before NASA). Certainly the Apollo program has seen a lot of press recently with the 50th anniversary of the moon landng, but this time in history has not been in the mainstream. I especially like that the author does not go into excrutiating detail (other than many many acronyms) and this kept the length of the book ideal for this kind of subject matter.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book because I love the author's YouTube channel but the book didn't deliver. I didn't feel the sense of excitement that I had expected. It was interesting in that most people probably don't know much about the early years of rocket development and space travel. It's worth a read to round out your space knowledge but don't expect to be blown away.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good book.
It really gave a depth to the history of pre-nasa I never knew, including the real events happening leading up to the sputnik red scare.
Turns out it wasn't the big suprise the politician hyped it up to be to the uninformed.
Greg Herringer
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
It served its purpose: provide context and info on selected key events leading to the development of America’s space program as managed by NASA. Was a good complement to my recent viewing of the movie “Hidden Figures”.
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful history of the world powers getting into space

Loved the journey from WW2 all the way through to just before the Mercury missions.
I cannot wait for a sequel, picking up where this left.
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Amy Shira Teitel is an American-Canadian author, popular science writer, spaceflight historian, YouTuber, and podcaster, best known for writing the books Breaking the Chains of Gravity and Fighting for Space. She's also hosts the popular YouTube channel The Vintage Space (previously Vintage Space).

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