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Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  742 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Now a CBS All Access series created by Mark Heyman with executive producer Ridley Scott.

ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN PASADENA EXPLOSIONscreamed the headline of the Los Angeles Times. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer who helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plot line into a reality, was at first mourned as a scientific prodigy. But reporters soon uncovered a m
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 6th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published February 15th 2005)
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really liked it 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  742 ratings  ·  98 reviews

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David Lomax
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I grew up near JPL (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena and heard a few of the stories about John Parsons, about the way he was a “Satanist,” and how his obsession eventually cost him his life.

Of course the realty behind the stories of the scientific prodigy were way more complicated than the salacious versions I heard. But George Pendle’s book makes it clear that the truth of Parsons’ life was just as fascinating.

Pendle is a writer for the London Times, which suggests the international f
Oct 03, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography

A wide reaching and meandering attempt at an ambitious biography.

George Pendle, the author, came across an obvious choice for a fascinating story, but flounders in trying to pick and choose among the various story lines to pursue in this biography of J.W. Parsons.

The cast of characters reads like a Who's Who of famous, near-famous, and just wannabees set in the turbulent Depression/War Era of greater Los Angeles, California. From the soon to be famous sci-fi writers such as Heinlein and de Camp
Kirk Smith
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Just T.M.I in general. I grew up rocketeering firing Estes model rockets. That still was not enough to keep me from wishing this was a short story. Parson's story is admittedly fascinating! You WILL become an expert on: Jack Parsons, Pasadena, the history of rocketry, solid propellants, liquid propellants, chemistry, Caltech between 1936-1946, the first military authorized rocket research, science fiction clubs and societies, explosions, the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that old c ...more
S Suzanne
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I must confess I skimmed much of the detailed rocket stuff to get to more about the OTO, occultism, SCI-fi, and relationship zaniness.

Cries out to be series - I just find Parsons' story so compelling. But the material cries out for David Cronenberg or David Lynch...someone who can convey otherworldly and heightened states of reality.

Better than expected. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the occult in America. I want to know much more about the women of his life...m
Peter Landau
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Who knew rocketry was thought of as a pseudoscience by the academics as recently as a century ago? Not me. I don’t think much about rocket science, though I do appreciate a nice phallic symbol in my pulp sci-fi. There’s rocket science and pulp sci-fi in George Pendle’s STRANGE ANGEL, a biography of John Whiteside Parsons, an inventor of a rocket fuel still in use today for space travel. This unaccredited weirdo intersected with others oddballs of the time and place, that being the first half of ...more
Kevin Kormylo
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Most over the top biography I have ever read. It would make for an excellent film except no one would ever believe that the events described in this book could have actually happened.
John Carter McKnight
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
A mindboggling story of a different world, Los Angeles in the years before World War 2, when rocket science was confined to comic strips - and a tiny few dreamers blowing stuff up in Pasadena's Arroyo Seco. One such was John Parsons, not quite the blueblood he acted, but an intuitive autodidact with a penchant for blowing shit up.

Along the way he invented Jet-Assisted Takeoff, the modern solid fueled rocket, was instrumental in founding JPL and was a founder of Aerojet Corp. And Aleister Crowle
Michael Burnam-Fink
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, biography, history
This book has to be history, because nobody could make up something so bizarre.

Scion of a wealthy Pasadena family, Parsons was one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry (JATO, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, castable fuels), despite a lack of formal training or credentials. At the same time as he was turning rocketry from a pursuit for cranks into a pillar of the Military-Industrial Complex, Parsons was deeply involved in black magic, and was the high priest of the a Crowleyite Satanic lodge, wh
Charles Dee Mitchell
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I would like to write a review that does justice to the all-American weirdness of Parson's life but I am not sure how to go about it. So this is going to be very straightforward stuff.

In 1913, Parson's parents were among the thousands who moved to Southern California from the chilly Eastern seaboard in search of the good life. His father abandoned the family, but his mother's wealthy parents made the journey west to take care of their daughter and grandchild. Parsons grew up lonely and affluent
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Aug 12, 2007 rated it really liked it

Another quick vacation read--have been curious about the topic for a long time; Loren Cameron told me years ago his "Uncle Jack," the subject of this biography, so it was an unexpected pleasure to stumble across this book at City Lights. It's a great California Studies sort of book, about the social and intellectual connections between occultism, sexual libertinism, bohemian lifestyles, left wing politics and science fiction among the the people at Caltech who pretty much invented American rocke
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been fascinated by Jack Parsons since first reading about him in Mark Frost's THE SECRET HISTORY OF TWIN PEAKS. George Pendle's SECRET ANGEL delivers a full payload of the true history of Parsons the pagan rocket man in this well-written and engaging book that fills in all the blanks and connects most of the dots. The basis for the CBS All Access series of the same name, Pendle's book can be read as a companion book to the show or as the excellent stand-alone biography it is.
What I love about reading biographies is that not only do you get the history of the person that is the subject but you also get a peek into the era that they lived in and the people and things surrounding such.

Jack Parsons grew up in a very interesting time, scientifically speaking. He was a school boy in the 1920s and a teen in the 1930s. His interest in rockets and chemicals started at a young age, and before the stock market crash of 1929 his grandfather, who made his money back East before
Brian Clegg
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a case of truth being stranger than fiction in all it’s glory – you really couldn’t make this one up. John Whiteside Parsons (his real first name was Marvel, but you can understand why he was called John or Jack from an early age) was that most euphemistic of people, a genuine rocket scientist. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone further from the typical idea of the role – and George Pendle does a superb job of painting a picture of the very strange and confused life of this man.

In one sense
Dec 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010, reviews
I wish I liked this book more -- it's got so many elements that I love in a book, & it's well researched & well written. Reading this book made me realize how little I really knew about the development of rockets, life in the U.S. during the 1920s through the 1940s, occult beliefs & practices . . . the list goes on & on. At the end of it all, though, this is a heartbreaking story of a very sad man. Jack Parsons seems doomed almost from birth, & it's really a testament to his ...more
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Dang. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Self-taught polymath. Chemist, Rockateer, Founding member of JPL, Poet, Magician, total babe. And a snappy dresser to boot!

He may be an excellent example of "It's better to burn out than to fade away." His death was horrific. However, I just don't see him as having much of a future with the avalanche of troubles that kept on coming. The 1950's would have not have been kind to him. Where there is life there is hope, I suppose. But his life seemed to be
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it
John Whiteside Parsons led a very interesting life and Mr. Pendle shares that life with us. Unfortunately, Mr. Pendle likes to take the reader down rabbit holes - exploring the lives of every person Parsons ever meets, the history of every organization with which he could be associated. All these detours (at least the non-rocket science ones) take away from the central story.

My fiance, of course, disagrees. He loved the book. But this is my review and would have enjoyed the book more if Pendle
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Chemistry Wizards
Dorothy Parker once wrote, "There is no more cruel destroyer of excitement than painstaking detail", and boy does this book do that. Somewhere there's a fascinating tale to be told about Mr. Parsons, but whenever the story picks up speed you're regaled with endless chemistry compounds and physics equations. All this Mister Wizard attention to detail was biographicus interruptus. C-
Lacey Coffin Greene
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
one of those, huh? worlds i never knew existed kind of books, intersects the life of Jack Parsons, the kind of guy who could only have come out of 1920s LA, and crack rocket science, the origins of science fiction, the sunset of the golden age of the theosophy and occultism of aleister crowley, starlets, the high california desert, gunpowder and...oh you have to read it to believe it. crazy.
Carla Remy
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the second bio of Jack Parsons I've read, and by far the better, more thorough book. The details of the rocketry are so thorough I was bored. But the L.Ron Hubbard stuff is amazing ... Unbelievable. If you have any interest in the beginnings of scientology you need to know this.
Jack Hastings
May 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating character study. Explosions, Aleister Crowley, Pasadena, the LA Science Fiction Society, L. Ron Hubbard, who could ask for more.
Jeri Rowe
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
George Pendle's book is why I'm in a book club.

See, I would have never read this book. I had only a passing interest in rocket science. And the occult? Please, I had no interest reading about that. But Steve, a member of our book club, recommended it, and I thought, "What the hell." The end result? I enjoyed it much.

Pendle spent five years researching this book when he was in his late 20s. It was his first book after leaving The Times, the daily newspaper in London where he worked as a journali
Robert Lewter
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was everything that I hoped it would be. It gives the real inside story of Jack Parsons. What surprised me was the cast of characters. There were freaks like Alister Crowley and L.Ron Hubbard and non-freaks like Issac Asimov and Arthur C.Clark. It was a compelling read. It makes me wonder now more than ever if everyone who has made great breakthroughs in science, mathematics, or literature is some type of a mild to moderately insane individual. READ IT!

Well written, researched and foot
Corby Plumb
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fitting with my current fascination with "weird" scientists like Tesla and Reich, this was a great book on Jack Parsons, highlighting his dual life as proto space age rocket pioneer and conjurous bohemian Crowleyite. Well ahead of his time in both respects, its the finally factual story of someone rubbed out in aeronautic history and obscured by sordid mysterious tales of sex magick rituals. Also a great look into a time when rocketry was considered crackpot pseudoscience, and sort of a great we ...more
Jeremy Hunter
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't know what was more interesting, Jack Parsons life or the snapshot of Los Angeles of the 30s and 40s. Parsons was a rocket scientist, a sci-fi enthusiast, and an occultist. Throughout his short life, he was friends with L Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein. He studied at Caltech when Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer was on campus. Lastly, he was involved with Aleister Crowley. While the biography was informative, I felt like Pendle barely scratched the surface of Parsons' life. Definit ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jack Parsons surely led a strange life. One of the original Caltech Suicide Squad, he made major contributions to US rocketry. He also was occultist, believed in magic power. The books also gave me a glimpse of LA and Pasadena history in 1930s, and some history in Caltech too.

It is fitting that a crater on the moon bears his name, along with other giants like Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Theodore von Karman, Robert Goddard.
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I think this was a well-written book. Not chronological at all but compartmentalized by subject matter. As the author circles a subject he may run off on a tangent that intersects other tangent lines beautifully. When you're circling such subjects as the founding of Los Angeles, experimental rocket physics, and communing with the devil, those intersections are fairly important.
Dave Summers
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly stirring portal into Jack Parsons, who lately has been popping up in all manner of science history, new age conjecture, and dark Lovecraftian fiction. A deeply flawed but remarkable person who, once again, appeared at exactly the right time and in the right place. Recommended.
Jeff J.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A curious biography about rocketry pioneer a John Parsons. I enjoyed the early chapters about his “Suicide Squad” colleagues and their predilection for blowing things up. His later fascination with the occult got a little tiresome, although he certainly went out with a bang!
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books
Fascinating telling of a fascinating man in a fascinating place at a fascinating time. Read it now before the upcoming TV series (which I found out about because I was astonished it hadn't already been made) becomes your new favorite thing.
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“In 1912 he had joined a small quasi-Masonic organization named the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO, which boasted 500 members spread across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Crowley seized control of the OTO, started a chapter in Britain, and began rewriting its rituals, grafting The Book of the Law into the society’s texts” 1 likes
“Parsons’ interest in the OTO had not been lessened by his new workload. Indeed, it had grown stronger as he immersed himself in the writings and philosophy of Aleister Crowley.” 1 likes
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