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Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11

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For the 50th anniversary, the epic story of Apollo 11 and the astronauts, flight controllers, and engineers who made it happen, by the author of the bestselling A Terrible Glory and The Blood of Heroes.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon, a moment forever ingrained in history. Perhaps the world's greatest technological achievement-and a triumph of American spirit and ingenuity-the Apollo 11 mission, and the entire Apollo program, was a mammoth undertaking involving more than 410,000 men and women dedicated to putting a man on the Moon and winning the Space Race against the Soviets.

Seen through the eyes of the those who lived it, Shoot for the Moon reveals the dangers, the challenges, and the sheer determination that defined not only Apollo 11, but also the Mercury and Gemini missions that made it possible. Both sweeping and intimate, and based on exhaustive research and dozens of fresh interviews, bestselling author James Donovan's Shoot for the Moon is the definitive and thrilling account of one of humankind's most extraordinary feats of exploration.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published March 11, 2019

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About the author

James Donovan

17 books93 followers
James Donovan is the author of the bestselling books The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo–and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation and A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn-the Last Great Battle of the American West. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 209 reviews
Profile Image for Rebecca.
481 reviews
September 16, 2019
2.5 Stars.
I'm that person who devours any book written about the space program. When I saw this, I had to have it.

You would think that a book published for Apollo 11's 50th anniversary with the "Apollo 11" in the title would focus more on that mission. Surprisingly, this book did not. I wouldn't say the part of the book about the space race leading up to Apollo 11 wasn't bad - but it has been done before. I can think of dozens of books written about the space race. I don't really feel that this book really adds much to the discussion. I thought it odd that a book that was supposed to focus on Apollo 11 doesn’t really start focusing on that mission until page 300. Is it really the extraordinary story of Apollo 11 when it only takes 95-ish pages? There have been multiple books written about single missions, and they’ve been very good (Apollo 8, Apollo 13). I feel the book could have been much better if it hadn't tried to cover everything, and instead focused more on the mission.

The author writes well and likes to sprinkle his narrative with unattributed anecdotes. I didn’t mind this so much, until one of them directly contradicted established history.

Page 220 recounts a story, apparently taken from an interview with Chuck Friedlander, where he takes Grissom’s parents to Cape Canaveral: “A few months before the Apollo 204 fire, Grissom’s parents had come up from Indiana to visit. Gus asked Chuck Friedlander to give them a tour of Cape Kennedy. . . Friedlander took Gus’s parents up the elevator to level eight and walked them over to the command module.” The gist of this story is that Grissom’s parents visited the capsule high atop Launch Complex 34 a few months before the launch. This would not have happened. The capsule was not installed at LC-34 until January 3, 1967, which is only 24 days before the fire. Hardly a “few months” before the fire. The Apollo 1 capsule arrived at KSC in August of 1966, and spent time in an altitude chamber before arriving at LC-34. I’m not doubting that Grissom’s parents may have toured the Cape with Mr. Friedman, but I suggest that if they did visit the capsule, it would not have been at level 8, on the gantry at LC-34.

I’m also quite annoyed with the author for misquoting Grissom’s last few statements before the fire. On page 214, the author lists Grissom as saying "I said, Jesus Christ, if we can't communicate across three miles, how the hell are we going to communicate when we're on the moon."

Here is what he really said: "How are we going to get to the moon if we can't talk between 3 buildings? Jesus Christ. I said how are we gonna get to the moon if we can't talk between two or three buildings?"

It may not seem like a big difference, but it is different. Transcripts of the audio (or the audio itself) can be found online. I think there was no reason for the author to misquote Grissom here. It may seem close enough, but imagine if we only remembered the close enough version other iconic statements. This may seem like nitpicking, but I’m very touchy about Apollo 1. There was no excuse for this in a situation where the author had some really awesome resources at his disposal while writing this book.

In the end, I was disappointed. Finding inaccuracies like these make me suspicious about errors I may not have noticed. I appreciate that the author wanted to write about the space program, but I’ve honestly read this same book a dozen times. It has been done before. Even though Apollo 11 has been covered before, I think that a fresh version for the 50th anniversary would have been great. I don't think this quite fits the bill. I’m not going to discourage anyone from reading the book, but I think there are better examples already out there. But who am I to disagree with Michael Collins?
Profile Image for Christopher.
169 reviews36 followers
June 15, 2021
Punched out early on this one. TL;DR version: Yet another telling of the space race, along with a summary of the first human landing on the moon, written in a pedestrian style.

A blurb on the cover, attributed to Apollo 11's command module pilot Michael Collins, touts this as the best book on Apollo he had read.

At the time of publication, Collins was 88 years old, and had less than two years left in his life, so he can be forgiven for the mistake: This could not possibly have been the best Apollo book he had read, partly because Collins himself wrote much, much better than this.

I bought the book on that blurb alone, because I trusted Collins. But Collins was wrong about this book. This book is a work almost entirely citing secondary sources, and contributes nothing to the history of Apollo that other publications haven't already done in a more engaging, more scholarly, and more professional manner.

My mistake was being deceived by the cover layout, which makes the book appear to be more about Apollo 11 than it really is. And to be even more suggestive, there's a color photo cutout of the crew of Apollo 11 marching out on launch day. It's an object lesson in how to market a book effectively.

Sure enough, the beginning of the book even teases us with three pages (essentially two, but who's counting) from that launch morning in July 1969.

From there begins the author's retelling of the story of the space race leading up to that historic mission. And that is where my patience began to wear away early. I have read a great many books about the early space program, and in doing so, you get to know the drill--any story about the Apollo program must in some way include an explanation of the space race and something about the cold war that spawned it. That's par for the course, pretty much. Whether that story is told in a broad or more general way is up to the skill of the author.

The problem here is that Donovan has chosen to write mostly about the space race. And that might not be such a bad thing in the hands of a really good writer. But at around page 50, I was already getting impatient. I decided to take a peek ahead and see when coverage of the flight of Apollo 11 actually began, and I was disappointed to find that point was on page 330. So the centerpiece of the book--the first human moon landing, arguably the crowning achievement of the entire century--takes up a little more than 60 pages in this 392-page book.

I skipped ahead, because I wasn't interested in yet another account of the early years of the space age. So I picked up just after the Apollo 1 fire. I wanted to read what he could say about the Apollo program.

I grew more frustrated with Donovan's prose. Many unattributed sections, nothing truly new or even well told. It was a chore to read, and my notes in the margins were taking up more of my time. He hops on the bandwagon of those flogging Buzz Aldrin, and at times he summarizes major sections of missions in a couple of sentences, among other issues.

Donovan finally lost my confidence with the unattributed claim that, '[T]he Apollo 7 mission had gone so well that one of NASA's administrators decided on a big change in the schedule' (p.250)--meaning Apollo 8 would go to the moon in December 1968. That claim is bogus. The decision to reconfigure Apollo 8 as a lunar orbit mission had already been made official in August, two months before Apollo 7. The Apollo 8 accounts by Zimmerman, Kluger, and Kurson all confirm this. If it had taken until late October for an unnamed 'NASA administrator' to green-light Apollo 8 as a lunar orbit mission, that would have given NASA less than eight weeks to prepare. The target launch window of late December would have been impossible to achieve.

He makes other factual errors as well--some other reviews document these more extensively--but it was his choices and his loose writing style that killed this book for me. I really wanted to like it, but Donovan wasn't up to that task. I gave up with only about fifty pages left--I just knew it wasn't getting any better, and it was time for something else.

I was going to be overly kind and say this is adequate if you haven't read anything about Apollo or the space race, but actually, I'm not going to recommend it at all. There are a great many books that do a better job.

For a general history of Apollo, read Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon, which is arguably still the best of its kind. For a history of the space race, there's the Pulitzer Prize-winning ...the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, by Walter McDougall, or the Pulitzer Prize-nominated This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age, by William Burrows. For perspective of the American political decision to go to the moon, John Logsdon has written a couple of excellent accounts. And of course, from an astronaut's perspective, there's none better than Michael Collins' superb Carrying the Fire.

The list goes on and on. Don't waste your time with this one.
Profile Image for Byron.
202 reviews7 followers
April 12, 2019
What a thrilling book! Even though I knew the outcome from the beginning, having lived the early space years as a youth, I could not put this book down, making up excuses to drive my car so I could listen to the next chapter. Donovan details the history of the race to the moon, including a lot of material that has come to light in the years since, especially about the Soviet space efforts. He chronicles the selection of the astronauts and the factors that affected the selection of the men and crews for the Gemini and Apollo missions.

While many of us have been captivated by Tom Hanks as James Lovell in Apollo 13, the near catastrophe, the successful story of Apollo 11 is equally compelling, as the unknowns and dangers involved in the mission were significant. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were aware of the risks and rated their chances of a successful landing and return at 50-50, not good odds for most of life's ventures. But the story of the moon landing is a story that goes far beyond the astronauts, and Donovan makes us very aware of many of the people who contributed to this achievement, such as the flight controllers, and the various specialist who worked on the myriad of problems that had to be resolved in order to make this flight possible. (One major omission was that he did not mention the ladies from Hidden Figures, so I am curious as to how that should fit into his story.) He also talks extensively by the contributions of Wernher von Braun, the remarkable figure who, after helping Hitler in WWII, became a foundational cornerstone of the space program, achieving a significant level of celebrity during the space years.

Of course, the space program began in a pre-60's America, where the modus operandi was white, male, and for the most part, cigarette smoking, corvette driving, and hard-drinking. That is a sad reality, and though I am of the impression that NASA has become more culturally appropriate in the decades since the moon landing, that is an issue for another day.

Donovan's tells the stories of the tragedies encountered, not just the Apollo 1 fire that killed Grissom, White and Chafee, but he told me something I did not know, that an astronaut named Clifton Williams, who never flew in space, crashed his test plane not far from where I live in Tallahassee in 1967, before I came to FSU.
Profile Image for Daniel.
119 reviews
August 14, 2022
Great narrative skills. The book title does not do justice to the events covered. The history of the whole space programs from the thirties on are described in detail. The personalities involved are revealed with their strengths and flaws. Story telling is excellent, the author succeeds at building suspense even if we are aware of the outcomes. We are reminded of the importance of risk managament and how it is done differently in different cultures. The US was quite transparent while the russians were hiding their plans and their losses displaying very little concern for the life of their cosmonauts. In the end Appolo 11 was a resounding triumph due to excellence in preparation, organization and superior talent. The culture of secret prevented the russians from learning from their mistakes while NASA investigated failures and did public investigations of disasters such as Appolo 1. So culture and organization played a huge role in NASA achieving its goals during the so-called space race; leadership made a difference.
Profile Image for Wendy.
722 reviews7 followers
September 12, 2019
I thought this book is just about Apollo 11. However, this book is more informative. It details the American space program from the very beginning, culminating in Apollo 11 and the moon landing. I learned a lot, like Lyndon Johnson's big role in encouraging the space program's birth. Learned that politics played a very big role too - if not for the Soviet's push for space exploration and subsequent glory, the Americans probably would not even entertain a space program. There's also a lot of science involved and anecdotes about the astronauts. Definitely a good read if one is interested in history of humanity's quest for space flight.
Profile Image for Immigration  Art.
224 reviews7 followers
January 3, 2023
This book is essentially a summary of the U.S.-Soviet "Space Race" dating back to Sputnik (during the Eisenhower era) and continuing through the Mercury Missions during the JFK years; the Gemini Missions during the Presidency of LBJ; and the Apollo Moon Landings during the Nixon era.

The book offers no real scholarly research. There are not many footnotes, or end notes, nor any substantial bibliography of which to speak. Most citations are to secondary sources. The writing is geared for the "man on the street" and presents information primarily as secondary reporting in a narrative form.

Even though the writing is not stellar (pun intended), the book is nevertheless a useful resource which lists each Mercury Mission and what was intended to be accomplished by each. Likewise, the incremental step-by-step tasks of each Gemini Mission are spelled-out and placed in the context of accomplishing the next level sophisticated maneuver or technological leap needed to reach the moon.

Finally, the task of each Apollo Mission is similarly described as part of the long term, incremental approach to the moon landings by American Astronauts.

As an American Space Primer, this book ain't bad; as a work of scholarship -- ah, not so much.

Overall, not bad. It taught me the basics . . .
Profile Image for Porter Broyles.
424 reviews40 followers
September 12, 2019
(Audio book)

This was a fun book to listen to. I do not consider myself to be overly knowledgable about the space race, but this was not my first foray into that subject.

The book is well written and definitely kept my attention. The first 2/3rds of the book is a general high level overview of the space race from the American perspective. The last 1/3rd of the book was about Apollo 11.
Profile Image for Laura.
338 reviews21 followers
August 12, 2019
This was informative, entertaining, and well-written.
Profile Image for WendyB .
519 reviews
June 16, 2019
I enjoyed reading this but had thought most of it would be about Apollo 11 and it really wasn't. I did like the part about the Gemini missions as they often get overlooked in books about the space race.
Profile Image for LAPL Reads.
544 reviews166 followers
August 17, 2019
James Donovan’s Shoot For The Moon is the first book about America’s triumphant moon landing in 1969 that puts the feat in its proper context. Donovan balances a technical analysis of space flight with gripping biographical details about the major players involved in the three NASA programs of the 1960s: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy gave a speech before Congress exhorting America to send a man to the moon by end of the decade. The date was less than three weeks after Alan B. Shepard became the first American to go into space. Shoot For The Moon extensively documents both the achievements and failures of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo prior to the moon landing.

America’s journey into space had its origins in the surrender of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun to US forces in 1945. At first, the expertise of von Braun and other German rocket scientists was utilized for purely military purposes. After the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in 1957, the US made a serious commitment to space travel with the formation of NASA. In fact in the next decade, the Soviet Union would achieve every space milestone before the United States, with NASA struggling to keep up in the Cold War's “space race.” That America finally surpassed the Soviet Union to reach the moon, is first due to a combination of scientific rigor, political willpower, single mindedness and luck.

Perhaps the greatest asset America had in the early years of the space race was the quality of its astronauts. Men who had been military test pilots could avert disaster with their calm command of the spacecraft. None of the 1960s astronauts died in space (though three perished in a training mission for Apollo 1), despite numerous technical failures involving the space flying equipment. Some mechanical issues could be fixed through routine simulations, but others relied on experiential learning, or the development of new technology to resolve problems.

As the Apollo program made progress in its ultimate goal of landing men on the moon in 1969, Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton picked Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, two former test pilots and a former fighter pilot, who had strong scientific backgrounds, to be the personnel for its fateful mission. After some wrangling over who would be the first man to set foot on the moon, Armstrong got the nod over Aldrin on the basis of seniority. There were some significant challenges during Apollo 11-- the Lunar Module barely had enough fuel for the descent onto the lunar surface, and the Module’s alarm system malfunctioned—but the mission went smoothly considering the extraordinary difficulty of the task at hand. The astronauts returned to Earth to a hero’s welcome after a three-week quarantine period. For once, the United States had overtaken the Soviet Union, which later abandoned its lunar ambitions in the space race.

Reviewed by David B., Librarian, InfoNow
Profile Image for Stephanie Hall.
142 reviews5 followers
December 15, 2020
This is clearly a well-researched book, full of fun little facts about NASA, the men behind mission control, and the astronauts, all to celebrate the fact that we are coming up to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I think a book like this, which covers so much ground, can easily fall into the trap of being too science-heavy and therefore unapproachable or boring by readers who aren't familiar with terminology. However, I think Donovan did an excellent job making this accessible for all readers and keeping the story engaging with a good mix of human anecdotes mixed with science.

The best part was hands-down the chapter when Armstrong and Aldrin were landing the LM on the moon. I already knew how the story ended, but I still found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting for something catastrophic to happen. That was truly great writing on Donovan's part.

The only problem I had was that I thought there would be more focus on the actual Apollo 11 voyage, but that was actually only the very last portion of the book, which I think the blurb is not very clear about. It's definitely more about the race that led to the moon landing and the initial creation of NASA, as well as the Mercury and Gemini missions. This is more a criticism on the way the book is advertised, rather than the book itself, because those parts were still very interesting.

My review is based on an ARC I received from the publisher.
Profile Image for Robert Sparrenberger.
751 reviews7 followers
July 24, 2019
If you wanted to read just one book on the space race through the Apollo 11 moon landing, this is your book. It’s well written with good pace and not too technical to bore some readers.

A couple of quick comments in response to some of the reviews.

1. The subtitle does say the space race and Apollo
11. This is not just a book about the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s everything leading up to that just as it states on the cover.

2. This sort of book has been written before. I’m Sure they are good too. Please let me know what they are.

3. There was plenty of space devoted to the moon landing in my opinion. Over 100 pages are devoted to it out of 392 readable pages of text.

Wonderful book.
Profile Image for Ang.
1,720 reviews39 followers
April 5, 2019
This was good, but I'm not sure it's better than Chaiken's A Man on the Moon or Wolfe's The Right Stuff, honestly. It's not covering new ground, I don't think. A Man on the Moon might still be the definitive book.

But I'll read almost anything about the space race, and this fit the bill.
Profile Image for 3thn.
139 reviews23 followers
August 25, 2019
I found the astronaut selection process and tensions between mission control and astronauts particularly interesting
Profile Image for Ted Hunt.
262 reviews6 followers
April 1, 2023
As someone who, as a child, watched the great moments of the American space program, from the blastoffs of the first three Mercury missions, all the way to Armstrong's first steps on the moon, I have been avidly invested in this great part of American history virtually my entire life. Not surprisingly, I have read a lot of books about the lunar program, but I cannot point to a single book that I enjoyed more than this one. In a well-written, concise (under 400 pages) narrative, it takes the reader from Sputnik to Tranquility Base, presenting both the familiar details as well as new stories that I had never read before. (I lived in Montclair, N.J., for five years and attended Buzz Aldrin's parade after his successful 1966 Gemini mission, yet I never knew that his mother's maiden name was "Moon."). One of the things that distinguishes this book from other accounts of the space program that I have read is that includes a wealth of information about the Soviet space program, both its successes and its long covered-up failures. For those who know little about the history of the American space program but want an accessible, concise account- this is your book. But its also a great read for aficionados of the space program who are looking for another presentation of the drama, excitement, and heroism of a familiar story. Two thumbs up.
225 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2022
Quick-moving narrative of the events and lives of those in the US Space Program, from the rockets of German scientist Wernher von Braun to Apollo 11's crew landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Bonus: I finished this book on July 20, 2022--the moon landing's 53rd anniversary!
A couple of nuggets:
- John Glenn was an amazing pilot. As a Marine, he was known to fly next to another Marine's aircraft, slip his wing under the other, and gently tap it with his own wing. Legendary ball player Ted Williams, who flew with Glenn's wingman in Korea, called Glenn "crazy." Part 4, ch. 4.
- On Feb. 20, 1962, the world watched and listened as John Glenn entered Friendship 7 in America's first orbital spaceflight. Grand Central Station asked all passengers to pray for Glenn, and the transit authority repeated this call to prayer every 10 minutes for about 5 hours. Part 5, ch. 5.
Profile Image for Curt Evoy.
36 reviews
May 1, 2019
An enjoyable read documenting the history of manned space flight from the beginning through the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The book covers many facets of the successful mission to land man on the moon. The author covers the Astronauts and the support team in Houston who supported their efforts.
Profile Image for Al Berry.
338 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2022
A Great book that doesn’t view the Apollo moon landing in isolations but deals with the lead up through Mercury into the culmination of the Moon Landing.

I had no idea prior that Buzz Aldrin partook in Communion on the moon during that first landing.
Profile Image for Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer.
648 reviews33 followers
December 26, 2020
Ein schöner Geschichtsbeitrag zu einem historischen Ereignis. Schön geschrieben und in einem tollen Tempo. Ich bin kein Weltall-Experte und mit meinem Wissen war die Detailtiefe genau richtig.
Profile Image for Sal.
325 reviews9 followers
June 8, 2019
Good historic look at the space race, I might even have it on my re-read list. That being said, I still loved First Man a bit more
Profile Image for John.
67 reviews
June 13, 2019
I'm a sucker for most anything about the 1960's NASA missions, and therefore easily lured in by this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not too technical, and sprinkled with plenty of great anecdotes.
13 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2019
This detailed and extraordinary book depicts the triumphs and setbacks during the cold war. The book was extremely riveting and kept you entertained until the end. The highly detailed recount of Apollo 11 was the highlight of the book. It opens your eyes to one of the greatest accomplishments that mankind has ever achieved. Overall, this was a very informative and engaging book which I would recommended to anybody with an interest in space or mankind's achievements.
Profile Image for Lissa00.
1,226 reviews21 followers
December 27, 2018
I have read several books on the early days of the space travel and I am almost always exited by the history. This is more of an overview of the missions and people leading up to the moon landing. This is well researched and has interesting andecdotes. While not the most riveting of accounts, I still found this a great overview of the beginning of NASA and the early excitement surrounding the space program. I received a digital ARC of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for J.J..
1,726 reviews13 followers
March 18, 2019
Highly recommend the audio version of this one. Even though I knew most of the history, still kept me on the edge of my seat listening to the narrative.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,325 reviews92 followers
March 15, 2019
The moon landing occurred a decade before I was born, so I appreciated learning all the details of the mission and everything involving the American space program that preceded it in this comprehensive book. From the beginning of the Space Race, the ultimate objective was to beat the Russians in space “firsts.” Initially, the Russians dominated, and they were quick to flaunt their successes, but would keep their failures secret from the world for years. The determination and ingenuity of NASA and the brilliant minds involved allowed the USA to surpass its Cold War adversary.

The Mercury and Gemini programs were stepping stones for Apollo, and they were significant in their own ways. I had to share one of the funniest anecdotes from one Gemini mission in particular: “Gemini 7 dropped into the Pacific… its two occupants weary, sore, and extremely fragrant – but healthy. Two of the three frogmen who attached the floatation collar to the command module after splashdown vomited when the hatch opened and they got a direct blast of fourteen-day-old air and the men who had lived in it.”

I was constantly jotting down fascinating tidbits. I didn’t know Gemini was named after the constellation and the two stars comprising it (Castor and Pollux) because it would have a two-man crew. Mission control shifts were designated a color by its flight director (Gene Kranz as white) and that color would be retired when that flight director left. The “complexity” regarding “orbital mechanics and rendezvous maneuvers” was mind boggling. And I think I have a retro-crush on Mike Collins – he appreciates, wine, literature, and gardening, his favorite cocktail is a martini, and he has “a self-deprecating wit.”

Even though I obviously knew Apollo 11 would be successful, reading about it was still suspenseful. Nowadays, we may take for granted all the risks involved, and these guys faced the unknown every time they left the earth’s surface. The entire episode regarding Apollo 1’s fatal fire and the chapters dealing with it were devastating, and those men were still on terra firma.

This was a riveting and informative book that detailed all the specifics of the space program without being too technical. Considering how many genius minds were involved in achieving one of mankind’s greatest achievements, I would say this book was incredibly successful in in its accessibility, scope, and ability to evoke awe-inspiring wonder.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Goodreads First Reads.
74 reviews1 follower
April 2, 2019
Fifty years later, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space program remain as interesting as ever. Even though we know how the story ends, James Donovan makes us sweat through some very tense moments.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Williams.
291 reviews6 followers
May 29, 2019
I have previously read numerous books about the space race and Apollo 11. At first, this book appeared to be one of those that rehashed everything that I had learned previously with no new information or insights. However, James Donovan really did his homework and gave key insights to the men of Apollo 11, including the technicians and flight controllers (not just the astronauts), which took me by surprise. Additionally, he put together a seamless narrative from Operation Paperclip through Apollo 11 focusing on the previous missions and knowledge that led up to the successful moon landing.

While he kept his focus mainly on Apollo 11, the fact that he brought so much more into the mix, it really is a well told history of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Unfortunately, because he stops at Apollo 11, the subsequent moonlanding missions, which were just as important, came across as an after thought in the epilogue. It would have been nice for those crews to not get overlooked in this book like they get overlooked everywhere else. That was the biggest disappointment.

Nonetheless, this is a very well done book. If you aren't a space junkie like me, this would be a good starting point to understand the complexities and the context behind the space race. He gets technical enough for you to "get it" without bogging down the text with an overload of acronyms and a treatise on orbital mechanics. This alone makes it one of the better reads of space race material in the marketplace. Job well done.
113 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2020
Very well written. Fascinating insights. For example did you know that little old ladies knitting were instrumental to putting men on the moon? It was little insights like this that made this such a fascinating read. I definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Sarah.
164 reviews18 followers
March 1, 2019
Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan is a truly riveting book. I read it out loud to one of my sisters and we were both pretty glued to it. We read it over the space (no pun intended) of about three or four days. We have never really read a book about the race to space and this book was a good introduction to it all.

As the title implies, it details the space race between the Russians and Americans to get someone into space, and on the moon, first and thus doing it as fast as possible.

The timeline is a little mixed up, but it works. Generally speaking, the account is heading toward the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. But first, you are going to learn how this all got started. You learn how NASA came into being and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and details about the efforts of both the Russians and the Americans just to get out of our planet's atmosphere. It is quite intense at times. The author writes very well, and, as I already mentioned, he really pulled my sister and I into the history.

Even the little details and challenges faced were fascinating to learn. I'll give several of them here: For instance, part of the problem faced by the designers of the first space crafts to exit our atmosphere was how to return them to earth safely without them burning up in the descent. Part of what helped them was noticing what type of meteors made it all the way through the earth's atmosphere to the earth, "So when two of Faget's colleagues, Harvey Allen and Alfred Eggers, pointed out that meteors with rounded noses were aerodynamically stable and survived the searing heat of the plunge - they had been studying the concept for years…" And another one: I'd never really considered that they had to use military/battlefield rockets to get into space. It makes sense of course now. And because the astronauts, upon reentry might end up landing anywhere on earth, they had to have survival training in a variety of environments. I'll give one last interesting detail, while on their way to the moon they would put their spaceship into a rotation, essentially, spinning their way to the moon. Why? Because the side facing the sun was too hot and could cause damage to the craft, but the side facing away from the sun was too cold and could also be a hazard, so in order to even it out they would put it into a spin.

Along the way, you are introduced to various people who took part in this grand mission to get a man on the moon. Donovan vividly portrays this large mix of individuals with, sometimes vastly, different backgrounds (one of the important men involved was a former SS officer who ended up on some Disney television presentations!), all using their various skills to work together to achieve one goal.

All in all, I really liked this book. It really keeps the attention and interest all of the way through.* It really did almost seem as though we'd travelled back in time, as it were, to these historic events.

One more note. It is fascinating for me to mull over the thought that, though God stopped people thousands of years ago from building the Tower of Babel, yet in the past hundred years, He has allowed us to go to the Moon. When you learn that the Apollo 8 astronauts were the first to leave earth's orbit and go around the moon, it almost gives me chills to think that, when they looked out of the window and saw the earth looking so small, they were the first humans God allowed to see it from that perspective.

Many thanks to the folks at Little Brown and Company for sending me a free advanced review copy of this book. My review did not have to be favorable. - Because I received an advanced copy of the book, some of the content may be different in the final publication

*You may want to know that there is some vulgar language and topics, also some swearing) in the book. Most of it was in actual quotations of the people in question. Also there were some awkward historical details. This was all stuff that I didn't care to know of so I just scribbled it out and didn't read those parts out loud. And, I want to note that my liking this book does not mean that I agree with all of the author's political, moral, or scientific perspectives.
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125 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2019
Dice Mike Collins, piloto del módulo de comando y mismo quien escribió una narración de su vida, que éste es tal vez el mejor libro que se ha escrito sobre la hazaña del proyecto Apollo en general y del viaje del Apollo 11 en particular. Yo podría estar de acuerdo con esa afirmación, aunque con algunas reservas. Esta semana la he pasado sumamente emocionado (sin exagerar, entre el llanto y el entusiasmo), conmemorando con el resto del mundo los 50 años del primer alunizaje; y para hacerlo me di a la tarea de revisitar los muchos libros, documentos y películas que a lo largo de mi vida he acumulado sobre el tema. Shoot for the moon me ha gustado mucho, y en efecto logra condensar en relativamente pocas páginas, de una manera amena e informativa, las diversas etapas en las que el esfuerzo de poner un hombre en la luna puede dividirse, haciendo un énfasis en el aspecto histórico, político y humano. Desde el reclutamiento de Wernher von Braun y su equipo alemán en Peenemunde, pasando por los vuelos experimentales de Armstrong en el X15, el proyecto Mercury, las rivalidades y amistades que se cementaron entre los primeros grupos de astronautas, el proyecto Gemini, sin el cual los pilotos no hubiesen podido aprender las maniobras necesarias para completar una misión a la luna y, finalmente, las inefables misiones Apollo y el diseño del Saturno V, el cohete espacial más poderoso jamás construido. No obstante, dicho énfasis en el componente humano tuvo por fuerza que dejar fuera buena parte de los avances técnicos, tecnológicos y de ingeniería involucrados en el proceso, lo mismo que los conocimientos básicos de astronomía y mecánica celeste necesarios para siquiera comprender la forma en la que se salvaron los formidables obstáculos que enfrentó la NASA. Pienso que la falta de una explicación clara y honesta en ese sentido es la razón por la cual algunas personas no pueden creer que esta hazaña ha sido posible. En su mayoría no lo creen porque nadie les ha explicado bien a bien cómo se hizo. En ese sentido me permito recomendar un libro indispensable: “How Apollo flew to the moon” (ver mi reseña aquí: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....
Ojalá estas celebraciones puedan contagiar a la mayor parte de la población del mundo de la misma insaciable curiosidad y entusiasmo que he sentido desde que la noción de un vuelo al espacio era posible, hace ya casi 50 años.
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