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The Right Stuff

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  51,163 ratings  ·  1,783 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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Timothy No. Because no women were ever seriously considered. Not even close. Not one female pilot on the original "long list" of 40 military test pilots for t…moreNo. Because no women were ever seriously considered. Not even close. Not one female pilot on the original "long list" of 40 military test pilots for the Mercury Program.
Do you have s problem with that? LOL. It's absurd to. Given the times.(less)
Aaron Curtis I read this first, absolutely loved it, and was really disappointed by Electric Kool-Aid when I read it later.

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Average rating 4.18  · 
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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
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Back when I was a kid, I watched The Right Stuff. And while that really dates me, it also sparked my fascination with the OTHER side of the science fiction coin. You know, REALITY and the real men and women doing real science.

And even if I'm not fanatical about learning science, I've never stopped learning and I don't want to. Sure, I may be doing it only to give my own writing much more verve, but understanding reality has been an end in and of itself. :)

Of course, I can lay all that internal p
Jim Rossi
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've probably read over a thousand books - I just earned my MA in History and am a writer who's headed to UC Berkeley in the fall - and The Right Stuff, along with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, are in my top 10. Exhilarating, uncanny, and - unusual for Wolfe - concise. The man's range as a writer - going from drug-fueled hippie rebellion to death-defying test pilots with unquestioned loyalty to the state - remains virtually unprecedented. I'm re-examining Wolfe's body of work as I finish my f ...more
Catch-up Review 2 of 4:

So this was a buddy read among the pantsless, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Unfortunately, for me, it was more of a failure to launch than a successful mission. (See what I did there?)

I WANTED to like this. I wanted to learn about the men who made this mission, the ones brave enough to leave the planet and try to land on the moon, the ones that clearly had cojones the size of beachballs (that's the "right stuff" - spoiler alert)... but I could not m
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,
Optimist ♰King's Wench♰
Alright... well... how do I say this?

I didn't hate it but this is a case (for me) where the book did not live up to the movie. Sure there are many MANY more details but for sheer entertainment value?

All. Day. Baby.

I liked that Yeager played a larger role than he didn't even in the movie and that the book encompasses the Apollo astronauts briefly. There was also much more context given in relation to the geopolitical events of the day and how those impacted the space program. I also had NO IDEA t
Deacon Tom F
Oct 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read.

As a retired USAF officer, I personally related to many of the scenes and the attitudes of fighter pilots. I was not a fighter pilot but during one of my assignments in Germany, I was honored to be invited into the exclusive Friday night happy hour. We had fun, fun, fun!

It is a combination socialogical and history read.

I highly recommend.
Brian Eshleman
Apr 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My kind of novel, less plot intricacies and more swimming in the culture of the time, the assumptions and developments of which Tom Wolfe explores at length. He even goes back to connect the status of the Cold War astronaut to the lone warrior who represented the hopes of his entire culture in single combat.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book about 20 years ago when I was really obsessed with space and convinced that I would one day become an astronaut. The former of those two things has not changed, but I've become much more realistic about the almost zero chance of the latter. I wanted to re-read this book and see how I'd feel now that I'm a pilot and also now that I just have 20 years more life under my belt in general.

I recall having really loved this book, and I still really loved this book. It's easy to r
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, 2014
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
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
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
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
With all the moon landing 50th anniversary excitement, The Right Stuff felt like a timely selection. While its content focuses on the Mercury missions and doesn’t follow through to Gemini and Apollo, it was very interesting to dive into the early days of the space race. I’ve never read Tom Wolfe before, and he certainly has a unique style.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Dennis Quaid. He definitely seemed to be enjoying himself! Maybe it’s because he’s a star in the film, but my main tak
How could I turn down an offer to Buddy-read The Right Stuff- with the Pant-less wonders....when they asked so nicely?

Ɗẳɳ 2.☊, Ron Swanson is my spirit animal (Jun 19, 2019 09:32AM)-

Well, what I'd like is to see you (Becky) and Licha team up on Delee, and convince her to read The Right Stuff.

I bet you could trick her into opening the door to her boat by using a trained raccoon to create some sorta commotion. Then when she steps over the threshold, grab her arm and twist it behind her back, whil
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
Benjamin Marcher
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: guy-stuff
Something about Tom Wolfe's prose (rest his soul) is so unfriendly yet so inviting, so dry yet so wry, so pedantic yet so accessible. It's indescribable. It'd be easier to say that Tom simply had The Right Stuff. ...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
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
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
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
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This is one of the few movies I've seen, but so long ago I barely remember it. What I did remember was Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. I grew up in Southern California and remember those frequent sonic booms. Part of this story is of the men who flew those flights. It is also the story of the first seven astronauts. It is just about as opposite as you can get of my recent read, Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond.

Somewhere recently I read "Tom
Book Concierge
Digital audiobook performed by Dennis Quaid

In 1957 a Russian rocket launched an unmanned satellite – Sputnik – into space. Clearly this was an escalation of the Cold War and the US would not stand still for it. No. We were going to put a man into space by 1960. But how? And who?

This is the story of the first seven Mercury Astronauts and how they came to be chosen – evaluated to ensure they had The Right Stuff to succeed in this vital mission.

I remember so clearly that day in school as a child w
I loved this book. I've read it at least twice, and will probably read it again someday. Wolfe takes us into the lives of the Mercury 7 astronauts before they were selected and during their training. It's been years even since my re-read, but scenes still pop into my mind while I'm writing this. To me, that makes it a really special book. ...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.
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
Jason Allison
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I grew up watching the movie on local television countless times, but had never read the book. Well now I have, and I am glad. I loved it. A glimpse of an America lost to time.
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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

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As we wrap up our 2018 Reading Challenge, we decided to ask our Goodreads coworkers a simple yet tough question: What were the...
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“The sky turned a deep purple and all at once the stars and moon came out — and the sun shone at the same time. He had reached a layer of the upper atmosphere where the air was too thin to contain reflecting dust particles.” 6 likes
“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.)” 6 likes
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