Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon

In the shadow of the moon walk of historic Apollo 11 and the tragic, but heroic, Apollo 13 – even the fatal Apollo 1 – Apollo 8 often gets forgotten.

But Kluger draws attention to the amazing, out-of-left-field trip to circle the moon, as Apollo 8 took a huge risk and shut down most of the competition left in the Space Race.

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The Apollo mission flown by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders (originally Apollo 7) was just supposed to take the LEM moon lander out for a test around the Earth. But NASA thinkers decided to go for broke and switched the crew to Apollo 8, shooting them to the moon by the end of 1968.

Kluger takes you into NASA offices, space contractors’ assembly floors, family kitchens and the smelly Apollo 8 capsule. You’ll feel you’re there as you hear the stories of the remarkable people who made this mission happen, nearly flawlessly.

And you’ll find out about the famous “Earthrise” photo that gave the entire planet a new perspective on the fragility of life.

Kluger previously wrote about the Apollo 13 mission with Lovell (that book was originally called “Lost Moon,” but was retitled “Apollo 13” after the movie). In fact, the movie was based on the book, and reading “Apollo 8” feels much like another exciting movie – hope it’ll be made. Is Netflix calling?

Space geeks and those in the mood for a good true story should pick up “Apollo 8.”

Thanks Library Thing for the Early Reviewer book. Read more of my reviews at Ralphsbooks.

Paul McCartney: The Life

Philip Norman’s mea culpa to Paul is largely good, has some flaws, and will fill in some gaps. But be forewarned – it’s not a Beatles book, and it’s not “authorized” in that the author sat with the subject. So, as such, it’s a different animal.

Norman gained acclaim/was criticized for 1981’s “Shout!,” which was a Beatles book and helped lionize John Lennon after the murder. It had damning things to say about Paul.

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Norman then buffed John’s story anew in 2008 with “John Lennon: The Life.” So when he approached Paul about a book, it was a surprise when Macca said fine, but wasn’t interested in hashing it all out again. Norman relied on interviews with old friends, staff, family, etc. As such, it’s a hit-and-miss collection of memories, from the beginning until Paul’s marriage to Nancy Shevell.

There is silence from Jane Asher, which leaves a gap, and a lot of details from “secret” girlfriend Maggie McGivern. She does a good job of inserting herself in a prime spot in McCartney’s life.

Linda, of course, was gone so she couldn’t talk, so there’s another gap. And no Lennon, no insights. And though he had access to previous books, interviews and letters, very little from either Brian Epstein or George Martin.

That said, there were good moments in the book, and sad moments, such as the recounting of Linda’s death, and the stupidity of the Japan pot bust/jail time.

Norman also couldn’t help himself and did relate Heather Mills’ most scandalous accusations in her divorce petition – all of which the judge in the case dismissed as false. So why include them in detail?

Maybe Paul’s life is too long now and has had too many chapters to attempt to gather it all into one volume. (For a look at Paul in the ’70s, get “Man On The Run.”) Maybe this would have been better as a two-parter, or an ongoing series. But it wasn’t, so it leaves me a little disappointed.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill

It’s a time that’s hard to fathom now. A country divided, a capital divided, a people divided.

In East Berlin, there were people desperate to leave, and the building of the wall in 1961 just steeled their resolve.

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This is the story of those who tried to get away, and how NBC and CBS raced to have the chance to film such an escape … and how the Kennedy administration tried to stop them.

Betrayal, arrests and killings are all part of the story of those to attempted to breach the wall, and that’s documented here.

Interesting to see an unfettered look at Kennedy, without the afterglow of sentiment. He was more of a hawk than we remembered, but also more timid. But considering nuclear war was always minutes away, maybe that’s understandable. He also told the CIA to begin investigating American journalists – a huge betrayal of the CIA’s stated job.

The aftermath of the tunnel crossing wasn’t always sunshine and roses, either. One crosser brought his wife … and promptly lost her to another man.

Lots of twists and turns here, like a good novel – but it’s all real.

Thanks, Blogging For Books, for the book.

The Act You’ve Known For All These Years: The Life, And Afterlife, Of Sgt. Pepper

Another book about my favorite band, the Beatles.

It’s an older one, issued upon the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper, and I read it during the 50th anniversary.

The book attempts to place the album in the context of 1967, so includes the Beach Boys, Kinks, the Who, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones and all the usual suspects.

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Problem is that the writer can’t decide what he ultimately feels about the album. He seems to be among those who say that Sgt. Pepper killed “pop” music – which is ridiculous. He also spends the last chapter blasting anybody who considers it one of the best albums ever released.

The writer’s style is also a hurdle – too clever by half full of puns, inside jokes and references that miss the mark.

It was a timely read (it jogged my memory about Sgt. Pepper), but I didn’t really get anything new from it. Just some slings and arrows from somebody who apparently believes he’s above liking Sgt. Pepper.

 

 

W. C. Fields: A Biography

He was more than a gin-besotted juggler and movie funnyman. W.C. Fields was a tragic figure who worked hard for his career, even though the movie studios didn’t always cooperate.

Like many comedians, it seems, Fields worked through personal issues – drinking among them, yes, but also a loveless marriage, a series of affairs and continuing professional disappointments.

Fields went from vaudeville to radio,  from love to loneliness, and from success to failure and back again. Along the way, he wrote many of the scenes and gags that made him a known quantity. But the legend of his drinking always outweighed the reality.

Throw in a wife he left but never divorced and a handful of skits from the formative days of vaudeville that he kept resurrecting in movie after movie and you’ll see why he never quite rose up to the top until, ironically, after his death.

Fields is quoted extensively from his own memoirs and letters, and comes off as a much smarter man than I was expecting. He also was shrewd – he stashed away money at banks all over the world just in case.

One of the more amazing comedians of the era.

 

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal

A great social history of the ultimate social event – eating.

This book traces the development of the American meal, from the messy subsistance meals of the colonists to the more genteel English-insprired meals, from French influences in the multiple-course meal, to a midday “dinner” that turned into the quick lunch of today.

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It’s all here, from how utensils and plates developed, how snacking and TVs affected the picture, and more. As with most things “American,” the influences came from all over, and got turned into a unique national style.

Whether your breakfast is tea and toast, or coffee, eggs, bacon and pancakes, Carroll explains how you got there.

Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year

A month-by-month look at an extraordinary year for an extraordinary band.

By 1966, the Beatles had reached the end, and a new beginning. The book cheats a little by starting in December 1965, but that is only to cover the beginning of Revolver, and ends with the first recordings for Sgt. Pepper.

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In between, there are drugs, tours, close calls, apologies, religion, new relationships, old relationships and more.

The Beatles take a break from each other, expand their own horizons, and bring all that back in time to record one of the seminal albums of the rock era – right after recording another of the seminal albums of the era.

Turner sums it up this way: “In December 1965 the Beatles had been fresh-faced touring idols widely thought of as a fad that was on the verge of dying out. … A year later they were studio-based artists flag-waving for the avant-garde who were maturing with their audience and gaining the respect of serious music critics.”

Would love to see Turner follow up with a Beatles ’67 book.