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The Right Stuff

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  38,045 ratings  ·  1,238 reviews
When the future began...

The men had it. Yeager. Conrad. Grissom. Glenn. Heroes ... the first Americans in space ... battling the Russians for control of the heavens ... putting their lives on the line.

The women had it. While Mr. Wonderful was aloft, it tore your heart out that the Hero's Wife, down on the ground, had to perform with the whole world watching ... the TV Pres
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Bantam (first published 1979)
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Aaron Curtis I read this first, absolutely loved it, and was really disappointed by Electric Kool-Aid when I read it later.
Paulo Campos **Very minor spoiler about the year the approximate end date of the book**

The only mention of a female astronaut of note comes in a sentence toward…more
**Very minor spoiler about the year the approximate end date of the book**

The only mention of a female astronaut of note comes in a sentence toward the conclusion when Wolfe relates that the Soviet Union sent the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova) in June of sixty three. The context is not presented entirely in terms of "a first" but as it also relates to the nature of the mission in contrast to what the U.S. space program's agenda was around the time. (less)

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4.24  · 
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 ·  38,045 ratings  ·  1,238 reviews

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Jul 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: space buffs, aviation buffs, cold war era buffs, dudes of any gender
This would have been a superb book but for Wolfe's puzzling decision to libel astronaut Gus Grissom. Sadly, between the book and its movie adaptation, Wolfe's distortions are probably all that most people know about Grissom (assuming of course that they remember any astronaut other than Neil Armstrong in the first place).

Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and the second to go into space. After his capsule splashed down, its hatch blew before the recovery helicopter arrived
Glenn Sumi
Updated May 15, 2018: RIP, Tom Wolfe... reading this book was such an eye-opener. You were a true original. I'll never forget the pure pleasure I had reading this book, as well as the great satire that was, that is, Bonfire Of The Vanities.


Yee-hawwww!!! Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about the American space race is a high-octane non-fiction masterpiece.

Wolfe's maximalist style – full of exclamation marks!!! ... ellipses ... and repeated italicized phrases that take on the rhythm of great jazz – is pe
Treasure of the Rubbermaids 24: Rocket Men

The on-going discoveries of priceless books and comics found in a stack of Rubbermaid containers previously stored and forgotten at my parent’s house and untouched for almost 20 years. Thanks to my father dumping them back on me, I now spend my spare time unearthing lost treasures from their plastic depths.

If you, a 21st century person, ever sees one of the old Mercury space capsules in a museum you’ll probably be amazed at how small and primitive it see
Elizabeth K.
Aug 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-new-reads
Good GRIEF, somebody please remind me about this the next time I think I will read a Tom Wolfe book. I seem to read one about every 15 years and in between I forget what an unpleasant experience I find it. I cannot! Take! The exclamation points! I'm one of those people who, constitutionally, cannot ignore an exclamation point on the printed page, so reading this was like being shouted at for great lengths of time. As everyone in the free world already knows, this is Tom Wolfe's book about the Me ...more
Matthew Quann
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matthew by: Glenn Sumi
Tom Wolfe's big and beautiful nonfiction romp makes for an absolutely A+ audiobook listen.

While listening to Dennis Quaid's narration, I felt as if a gruff stranger had sat beside me at a bar, bought me a pint, and started in on some conspiratorial, you're-not-gonna-believe-it storytelling. There's definitely an air of the old guard letting you in on the secrets of their exalted reign, and it is a hell of a fun bit of storytelling. Wolfe somehow manages to make the writing seem conversational,
The Very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff, that Righteous, Righteous stuff, the Indefinable, Unutterable, Integral Stuff.

Test pilots have The Right Stuff. Astronauts have The Right Stuff. Thus Tom Wolfe pulls us into Chuck Yeager's world in Muroc in the 1940's when the sound barrier is about to be broken and segues us into the original Seven - the chosen ones with the righteous, righteous stuff, the first men into space. (Never mind a monkey's gonna make the first flight! Never mind our rockets al
Thomas Strömquist
A quite good read, but not really what I would expect from Wolfe. The tone is very informal and the narrative almost unstructured conversational. This makes the first third a bit slow and drawn out as we're repeatedly hammered by the problem with the start of the Mercury program being that the pilot-cum-astronauts would not be required, or even able to, use their flying skills. The race with Russia was full on from the start and the feats being accomplished under their program, with little forew ...more
John Wiswell
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Literary readers, fans of non-fiction and biography, and readers who are jaded towards heroism
Easily one of the best books I've read this year, and one of those books I kick myself for having put off for so long. It possesses the very best of Wolfe; Kesey-like humor, Heller-like shrewdness and Steinbeck-like depth. Unlike so many biographical or journalistic books, it managed to make me feel for these people as well as inform me about them. He grabs the possibiltiy of their heroism and absoluteness of their cultural importance like the two horns of a bull, and wrestles the creature down ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Way back in 1979, Tom Wolfe packaged together an exciting story about the initial fleeting moments of the space race, as well as a delightful sense of humor, within the two covers of a non-fiction book. But don’t let the narrative’s 33 year-old publishing fool you. The Right Stuff aged well, managing in this recent read to deliver relevant and insightful commentary about an intensely fascinating historical period amidst the Cold War. From Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern Cal ...more
Alain DeWitt
Oct 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
While I am not a fan of Wolfe's writing style (wasn't that impressed with 'Bonfire of the Vanities' either) I do acknowledge that he is a keen observer and makes some astute observations about the space program and the country's relationship with it in the early days.

I have seen the movie many times - and enjoy it, probably more than the book - but reading the book I found that an important part of the narrative had been grossly underplayed in the movie. In the movie, it's implied but not very f
Graeme Hinde
Aug 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book genuinely gets the adrenaline pumping. There's a scene where Chuck Yeager takes an NF-104 up to 110,000 feet (about 10 miles into "space"), then looses control and goes into a spin, plummeting to 20,000 feet before regaining enough control to safely eject. Then the seat gets tangled in the parachute lines and spills corrosive fuel (why was there corrosive fuel in the chair?) on his face and hand. He fights through the intense pain of melting eyeball to free up the parachute and land sa ...more
Mitch Albom
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love
I still defy anyone to read the first chapter, as Wolfe follows the path of a plane crash through the trees, and not be dazzled by his style.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Poetic, historical, with a wry humor. A few too many exclamation points!

I really enjoyed this overview of the early days of the space race - all of the Mercury program, plus some of what led up to it and also what came after. Chuck Yeager plays a major part. The writing style is breezy and conversational, while somehow touching on most of the facts. I also enjoyed the pilot's humor.

Sometimes the prose went past poetic and into repetitious. While I don't always understand why the NASA administrat
Mike Hankins
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aviation, cold-war
The Right Stuff falls in the troublesome category of history books written by journalists. On the one hand, the book is wonderful to read, enlightening, insightful, and inspiring. On the other hand, there’s not a single footnote in the book, his bibliography consists of a single-digit number of works, and the author likes to make sweeping general statements that cannot possibly be backed up in any real way. But Tom Wolfe didn’t write The Right Stuff to be correct about all the historical details ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, history
No better book has been written about flying or the space race. Tom Wolfe has what it takes, the bubbling enthusiasm and critical eye, to write properly about astronauts. The Right Stuff is about endurance, guts, reflexes, a cool head, and giant titanium testicles. It's about going up day after day in high performance jets that are trying their level best to kill you-and statistically will kill 23% of pilots in peacetime-and pushing them to the edge of the envelope and beyond. It's about sitting ...more
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
I have always been a gig fan of the film version of The Right Stuff but never got around to reading the source material, which is surprising since I really like Tom Wolfe. This is stellar non-fiction. It is funny and incredibly informative. If you never got around to it, like me, give it a spin.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Was there a more fitting subject for a maximalist writer than the space race was for Tom Wolfe? With his much-celebrated The Right Stuff the recently departed journalist/novelist/sartorialist seemed born to document this important era of American history, and the men who helped anchor it.

It had been some time since I’d first read The Right Stuff; so long in fact that I can’t quite pinpoint whether it was in high school or college. What I can confirm is that it’s just as if not more impactful the
Bud Smith
Forrest Gump goes to space.
Rebecca Wilson
The Right Stuff is a gripping read. It moved me deeply. There was so much about it that I hated.

Chapter 12—that is the chapter to read. It has what's probably some of the best nonfiction writing ever. It begins with a humdrum recounting of the Russians' progress in space. And then, suddenly, John Glenn is in orbit. He's the third American in space, and we've just been reading about Alan Shepard's and Gus Grissom's flights (thrilling, but less so than you'd expect).

But then, John Glenn floats a
There are few modern writers as talented as Tom Wolfe, who manages to create his own style, in addition to a depth of thought and characters, while writing in a vernacular understandable to his readers.  In fact, after reading The Right Stuff, I decided that Mr. Wolfe has earned the spot of my favorite living author.

The novel opens where navy pilots push the science of flight beyond the envelope, just prior to the advent of the US Space Program.  These daredevils were men of talent, grit and wit
Dec 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shepard, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Carpenter, Schirra, and Slayton…these were the men chosen by NASA to be astronauts for Project Mercury, a program that put men into space for suborbital and orbital flights. They were called the “original seven” and they were considered the greatest pilots and the bravest men in America because they were pilots on the most daring flights in American history. When they accomplished their missions they became national heroes because they risked their lives for thei ...more
Nick Gibson
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My last and most enjoyable book of 2017. Tom Wolfe is in his own class. (The vast majority of the essays I've read this year are dry and dull in comparison.) This material - the pre-Apollo space race - is a motherlode for his electric, masterfully styled prose. He navigates the reader through the highly technical world of military flight test by finding the human drama.

It's not just raw entertainment, either. It's impossible to miss Johan Huizinga's ludic theory of human nature in Wolfe's explan
Aug 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Content - really good, informative without boring the reader. But ... oh, the writing ... I got so I couldn't stand the plethora, the multitude, the excessive amount of hyperbole, of italicized words/phrases, of exclamation points! Lest you think I exaggerate, I'll open the book to random pages:

p. 208 - two exclamatory sentences
p. 209 - one exclamatory sentence

p. 292 - two exclamatory sentences and two italicized phrases
p. 293 - one italicized word

p. 356 - two italicized phrases
p. 357 - eight ex
May 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Always been somewhat fascinated by space travel, so this may be a little more in my wheelhouse than for others. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anybody. Whether the subject is the genesis of NASA and the Mercury Program, the individual sub-orbital and orbital missions, or broader discussion of the space race with the Soviet Union, the writing moves at a breakneck pace and captivated me from open to close. There is some especially great stuff about the dangers faced by th ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction
Nonfiction at its finest.

TRS remembers a time when astronauts were thought of as big damn heroes. So sad how quickly we all moved on.
If I'd have only known of Tom Wolfe earlier.. Actually, I had, but I hadn't realized: I have watched The Right Stuff as a movie adaption on numerous occasions as a boy and a teenager - and simply loved it. I awed and dreaded the 'Speed Demon', who lived in the air, behind the speed of sound, and killed on so many occasions (watch the intro on Youtube, it's epic), and admired Chuck Yeager for his courage and manhood to challenge it with the X-1. Only years later, I picked up this book in my Dad's ...more
Dec 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americani
Finalmente ristampato uno dei tanti libri "perduti" di Tom Wolfe, bellissimo esempio di quel giornalismo d'autore, ma non necessariamente autorevole, che solo alcuni "irregolari" americani sanno tirar fuori: Capote certamente, forse Mailer, e che, come la settimana enigmistica, vantano migliaia di imitatori mai all'altezza. E' un libro da maneggiare con cura e attenzione. Per tanti motivi. E' un libro paradigmatico e per uomini (non tanto "veri", come titolava il film, assai bruttino, tratto qua ...more
Peter Colclasure
I loved this movie when I was a kid and watched it constantly. What prompted me to pick up the book was that I recently read Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full" and enjoyed the writing.

"The Right Stuff"is one of the better books I've ever read. First, it's a concise history of one of the most fascinating chapters in American history, the space race. Second, it's extremely well written. Tom Wolfe was one of the progenitors of New Journalism — writers who used literally techniques in non-fiction, a
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
With the passing of Tom Wolfe, it's apropos to update this review. I read this book in the late 90s and despite the fact that it's a cliche often said about books, in this case it's absolutely true: "I couldn't put it down". This is highly inspirational journalism about Mercury 7 and the American men and women who where at the forefront of the space race, in a completely different time and place than now.
Jeff Miller
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that makes you shocked to ponder never having read it. The beginning is masterful as it describes a pilots life, especially a test pilots life. A recounting of the history of the Mercury program that reaches into the lives of the astronauts and others and helps you to understand them. As a slice of history it is also brought alive. Growing up remembering the Apollo program this provides that history I was too young to know. Just brilliant.
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Screen & Page: The Right Stuff 1 2 May 15, 2018 12:57PM  
Books2Movies Club: The Right Stuff - book and movie 2 15 Mar 18, 2018 04:41PM  
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The Right Stuff 2 38 Feb 24, 2014 11:22PM  
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  • A Man on the Moon
  • We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves
  • Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey
  • Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
  • Yeager: An Autobiography
  • Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon
  • Of a Fire on the Moon
  • The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space
  • Deke!
  • This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age
  • John Glenn: A Memoir
  • Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond
  • Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon
  • Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir
  • First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
  • Moondust: In Search Of The Men Who Fell To Earth
  • Full Moon
  • Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard--America's First Spaceman
Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
“It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a central nervous system. In the late 1950's (as in the late 1970's) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone, should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole. In a later period this impulse of the animal would take the form of blazing indignation about corruption, abuses of power, and even minor ethical lapses, among public officials; here, in April of 1959, it took the form of a blazing patriotic passion for the seven test pilots who had volunteered to go into space. In either case, the animal's fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! One might regard this animal as the consummate hypocritical Victorian gent. Sentiments that one scarcely gives a second thought to in one's private life are nevertheless insisted upon in all public utterances. (And this grave gent lives on in excellent health.)” 4 likes
“In time, the Navy would compile statistics showing that for a career Navy pilot, i.e., one who intended to keep flying for twenty years... there was a 23 percent probability that he would die in an aircraft accident. This did not even include combat deaths, since the military did not classify death in combat as accidental.” 4 likes
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